Jun 30, 2016

Winning, losing, grace, and being there

Years ago Bobbi came back from a conference she'd attended and shared this:

1. Show up
2. Pay attention
3. Speak the truth
4. Don't be attached to the outcome

She called it "Grace in action."

Professor Google tells me this comes from cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arien, who died in 2014. And maybe it's called something else. There's a bunch of stuff on the web about Angeles, here, and here, for example. But she has no Wikipedia page! I didn't know it was possible for someone to be that well known and MIA on Wikipedia. She must be an exceptional woman.

Back to the steps. When people try to follow them they often see them as progressively harder. Showing up is the easiest. Not being attached is the hardest. I think that's because "showing up" is not well explained.

So I'm gonna fix that!

Step 1 is the hard one. If you show up -- properly -- the rest is easy.

Showing up means just showing up. That means being conscious, and that requires waking up. You can seem to show up without waking up, but that's seeming. You can't really show up if you are not awake. The body is there. The conditioning is there. But you are not.

And showing up means showing up without baggage. Otherwise you are not "just showing up." If you show up with baggage, who packed your bags? And why are you carrying them? Drop the bags and just show up.

Just showing up means showing up without an attitude, without an agenda, without anything attached to you or that you are attached to that keeps you from doing what you showed up to do.

Tying it back to the thread prompted by reading Sam Harris book "Waking up," "showing up" means showing up not attached to the illusion of the conventional self. Illusions are useful. The illusion of the conventional self is sometimes useful. But mainly it's baggage. And attached to that bit of baggage is lots of other baggage. A whole baggage car full. A baggage train full.

Perhaps you are not able to easily show up awake and without baggage. No problem. I can't do it easily either, at least most of the time. But when I can't, I can always do the next best thing: I can show up, then wake up. Then there, and awake, I can THEN see my conventional self as an illusion. I don't have to get rid of the illusion -- it might be useful. But if the illusion is holding me back, then I do what I need to do so it's not.

And THEN I can see the rest of the baggage I am carrying. But only if I look. If I look, it's illusions within illusions. Like turtles, it goes all the way down.

That goes for reality, too. As I've written elsewhere, and other elsewhere reality is an illusion. But it can be a very useful one. The goal is not to have no illusions, but to avoid illusions that are in your way: illusions that you don't realize are illusions; illusions that control what you do; illusions that cause you to do what you don't want to do.

If you see harmful illusions you can swap them for helpful ones (knowing they are illusions, or not), or drop them and have no illusions at all. Sometimes one is best, sometimes the other.

So if going through steps 1-4 gets hard (as it sometimes does for almost everyone) the remedy is not to give up. It's not to try to force your way through. It's to wake up, look around, see what kind of baggage (illusions) you are carrying and drop the bags.  Or swap them for bags that help.

Step 1, show up, means show up, conscious, without illusions that get in your way. And that makes the other steps easy.

Step 2: pay attention. If you just show up, it's easy to pay attention because there's nothing to distract you.

Step 3: speak the truth. If you just show up it's easy to speak the truth because there's no obstacle to saying anything at all. And saying nothing can be a kind of truth, too. Showing up makes that easy.

Step 4: don't be attached to the outcome. If you just show up not attached to anything, it's hard to get attached to the outcome. Easy to not be attached to the outcome. So easy.

Still, people have problems because they don't just show up. Instead, they show up with baggage that they don't know they're carrying.

"The need to win" in a conflict is a common form of baggage. And the conflict is often an illusion.

If you are intentionally playing a game with a willing opponent and you agree on what winning is, and agree on winning as a goal of the game, and you're looking forward to having fun playing the game, then the illusion of the game is a nice one and the illusion of winning helps make the game a nice one.

But if you're not in the game by choice but fell into it asleep and unaware; or if your counterpart is not there by choice; or you don't agree on the game; and especially if you are not enjoying it, then wake up! You need to do something. Asleep, you can't. Awake, you can.

If you wake up you can realize that you're not actually in the game. Rather you were in the metaphoric movie theatre of the mind, watching a dystopic movie in which the hero (you) has gotten into an awful situation with someone he or she loves.

It's a movie. Wake up!

Waking up doesn't stop the movie. But it does give you some creative control: new freedom of action and new ability to change the story line.

Important: you don't need to wake up the other characters. Indeed, unless they've told you that they want you to wake them up, you should not. Eventually, probably, they will wake up. But in their own time.

If we're committed to being awake, then our first job is to keep ourselves awake. Our second is to wake others who have asked us to wake them. Waking those who like their illusion and enjoy dreaming (or still believe it's real) is no part of our job.

Our job is to wake up and stay awake. It's a full-time job.

Awake, for me, means looking around for my own baggage and starting to get rid of it -- or to keep it depending on how useful I -- and not my conditioned self -- find it.

Awake, I know that winning and losing are both illusions. What my conditioned self had called winning might have made my conditioned self happy (I was asleep and registered no opinion.) But it would have made someone else (who my conditioned self saw as the opponent or "enemy") unhappy.

If I want to keep the illusion that my counterpart is really an enemy, I can do that. There are people who are worth hating and treating as enemies. But if my conditioned self perceives someone as the enemy, despite the fact that I love them, then that perception an illusion, and not a good one. And it needs to be gotten rid of.

Awake, I can change what I cannot change when I am asleep.

Awake, I can see that's an illusion, a harmful one, and one I choose no longer to maintain. Awake, I can change the game from combative to cooperative. I can redefine what winning and losing are for me. Awake, I can define winning as "making someone who I love happy" and losing as its opposite.

Now winning makes two people happy, and losing makes no people happy. So why not win?

Some time ago I might have imagined someone looking at me as I changed the game and imagined them judging me to be weak, or soft, for "giving in." Maybe someone even did it. It doesn't matter. What mattered was that there were times when I agreed with this real or imagined judge, and fought hard to keep playing a game that I hated against someone I loved, to satisfy someone whose opinion didn't really matter.

Some years ago, I realized that my ability to change was a strength, not a weakness. And so I redefined winning. When in a fight with my loved one, I'd take her hand and declare "I win." And at that point winning and losing would be different.

Over time I got better. Over time she started "winning" too. The game stopped being "who can hold out the longest" but "who can reach the fastest."

Now, I see things even more clearly. I add -- to my ability to change -- my ability to wake up, and the power of seeing illusions as illusions.

It took a long time to get here, but the way I see it now is this: I have the ability to wake up; I have the power to see through illusions -- mine and others; I am determined to free myself from conditioning; I have the courage to make someone who I love happy while facing the illusion that I am weak for doing so.

I'm certain that what I do is because I am able, powerful, determined, brave and strong.

I used to fight while still asleep. Then I learned to win while still asleep. Now I win, awake.

Much better.

Jun 16, 2016

Sh*t sticks, or why fair minded people, like me, dislike Hillary

Everybody dislikes Hillary. Not any of the left-leaning folks who I know. And the right-leaners? Fuggedaboudit.

I don't like her either. But I've concluded that I dislike her more than she deserves. Why? Because of data and science.

Science says that understanding implies belief.  So whenever I've heard and understood something negative about Hillary and I haven't categorically rejected, I've unknowingly accepted it.

Unknowingly.  That's what the science says.

I'm an open minded guy. So I don't accept things without evidence. And I don't reject them without evidence, either. Instead, I put them in a category that might be called "understood, but neither accepted nor rejected."

But science says there is no such category. So when I thought I was deferring judgment, I was really accepting the conclusion.

Anecdote is not proof, but it can illustrative. I've got two personal examples of this mechanism in action. One is a negative belief about Hillary Clinton and one a positive one about Donald Trump. I believed each because I had insufficient grounds to reject them when I heard them.

Writing this article has given me the data to know that the statements were false. And gave me the grounds for rejecting what I once believed.

And it taught me a lesson about the dangers of being open minded.

Open minded people, like me -- and I hope you -- think that our minds work this way: we make critical judgments in a two-step process. Step one is understanding. Before we can decide whether or not we believe something, we need to understand it. Step two is judging -- only after we understand something can we choose to believe or disbelieve. And course, we make our choice based on evidence. We don't do step two until we know enough.

Dumb people don't do that. They believe whatever they hear from Fox News or MSNBC or whoever they listen to. But we smart, open-minded people are different, right? First we understand something, and then and only then do we decide whether or not whether we have good grounds for believing it or for rejecting that which we have understood. If we don't have enough information we file such facts under the heading: "I heard this, but I don't know if it's true."

Moreover, we open minded people are willing to reverse previous conclusions based on the weight of the evidence. That is: if we get enough evidence to form a conclusion, the order in which we got it does not matter, only the evidence itself.

Sorry. Science says different.

Both premises -- that there is no "don't know if it's true" bucket and that we have a lot of trouble changing our conclusions once we've made them -- have been tested experimentally. The citations to research are below. Follow the links and judge the evidence if you don't believe me. Or you can file my assertions under "I read this, but I don't know if it's true." I don't care which you do, because they lead to the same result. Belief.

Some of the research I cite was done by Daniel Gilbert a top-flight researcher in psychology at Harvard. He's the author of the (once) popular and very good book "Stumbling on Happiness." And he's done a couple of TED talks on other research he's done. In this paper he explains his research on this topic, and he cites about a dozen other papers that arrive at the same conclusion: we tend to believe what we hear, even when presented with no evidence. Indeed, under certain circumstances, people tend to believe repeated assertions even when they are told the assertions are false! Gilbert's paper builds on prior research and contains a clever series of experiments that show more precisely why this is so.

The paper shows that if we are told something and we don't consciously reject it, that we store it our brains as "true." Each such "fact" lends its weight in future analyses, because as the paper says (with citations to experiments demonstrating this) "Once such beliefs are formed, people have considerable difficulty undoing them."

These two facts about human cognition explain why open-minded people might come to dislike, or to like some people more than they deserve. And by deseve I mean: "based on real evidence and objective analysis and independent of the order in which the information is received."

It explains to me why I -- and other people -- might dislike Hillary Clinton more than she deserves to be disliked.

Supposing you are an open minded person, and you hear--over some period of time -- thirty nasty things about Hillary Clinton. Suppose you accept five as true -- either based on consistency with prior knowledge or based on high trust in the source. Five you similarly reject as false. And twenty you reserve judgment on.

Here's the score that you think you've got:

True (nasty):  5
False (not nasty): 5
Unknown:  20

But here's how science says your brain recorded them:

True (nasty):   25
False (not nasty)    5

If all thirty statements are nasty, you'd have an undeservedly negative view of Clinton. If all thirty were positive then you'd have an undeservedly positive view.

But where and when are you going to get thirty positive statements about Hillary Clinton other than by reading her website?

Practically nowhere, and almost never.

How about negative things?

Practically everywhere, and for at least twenty-four years.

Seriously. She's been in the public eye since 1992, and she's been attacked repeatedly since then. Some of the attacks have been ridiculous, and I've rejected them. Some have been clearly correct, and I've accepted them. But most of them, the vast majority of them -- I had no idea about. Couldn't say. Not sure. So they went in the nonexistent "I don't know if this is true" bucket, better known as the "true" bucket.

If I had drunk the leftist kool-aid, I'd have a different view. I would have rejected every single criticism that wasn't absolutely confirmed. Meaning: I'd have rejected just about everything. If I had drunk the rightist kool-aid, I'd have believed almost all of it. But I'm an independent-minded guy. So I ended up -- wait! I ended up just like the rightist.

Over twenty-four years I've built up a view that she is untrustworthy, dishonest, manipulative, and unlikeable. And I think that's in significant part because I have not actively disbelieved that which I could not reject.

I don't believe these things with the passion that someone who hangs on Rush Limbaugh's every word would have.

But still, I have a view of her that I realize, rationally, is deeply unfair and undeserved.

Old saying:

Q: How do you avoid making mistakes?
A: Gain experience.
Q: How do you gain experience?
A: You make mistakes.

From first principles (and I think this is a good first principle) someone who has more experience will probably have made more mistakes than someone with no experience. And in politics, every mistake that you make will be roundly criticized.

Look at this data from the Roper archive at Cornell.

Romney leads the pack with peak unfavorables at 53%. Reagan, a well known public figure before he ran, at 49%. Dole, after years in the Senate at 47%.

Obama was the least disliked, with peak unfavorables at 28%. And the little known Bill Clinton, before becoming president, at 37%.

Since Hillary Clinton has been out there, publicly gaining experience -- by making mistakes -- for twenty-four years you'd expect two things. First: that she'd have made many more publicly visible mistakes in judgment than someone who has done almost nothing. Which is one reason she lost to Obama. So she'd have been attacked, justifiably, more often. And second that she'd have been attacked, unfairly,  more often. Since people (like me) didn't have enough information to reject most the attacks, and no reason to research them, then people like me did not reject most. So we accepted them.

For a quarter of a century she's been criticised, scrutinized, investigated, lambasted. I'm not surprised that her unfavorables are high.

I'm surprised that any independent minded people think anything good about her at all.

Read the headlines. "Poll: Trump, Clinton score historic unfavorable ratings." "Trump vs. Clinton Poised to Be Battle of Most Disliked Nominees in Decades" "Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking"

Nobody likes Hillary. Her unfavorability ratings are historically high. Seems right to me.

Huffington Post has her at 55.4% negative. Gallup, has her at 54%.

But looking at history, the nearest contender, Mitt Romney, was -- wait a minute! Just 1.4% less? And Reagan? Almost as high? What? But nobody likes Hillary.

Go check the records and you'll see the pattern. Almost nobody is below 40% because, as I've said elsewhere:

.the reality is if the GOP put up a half-dead monkey and the Dems put up a ham sandwich, both should poll over 40%.
Almost nobody has unfavorables below 40% because half-dead monkey voters will find the ham sandwich unfavorable, and vice-versa.

If you look at Hillary's trend over the past year you'll see the unfavorables tipping up. That might reflect the fact that she's been under attack from both the Bernie fans, and the Republicans. We don't know how much of her unfavorable is due to her "not being Bernie enough" and how much is due to her being "too Hillary." But it why they are as high as they are is not the point.

The point is that both she and Trump are at record highs, aren't they?

I picked the time frame for Hillary so you can compare with the polling history for Donald Trump. Here's what they other "historically disfavored" candidate looks like.

Wow! That's quite a bit different from Hillary. And everyone else. Hardly ever below 60% unfavorable and after the recent drop (presumably as he became the presumptive) it's on its way back up.

That kind of unfavorability is unheard of. That might be epic.

So it's misleading to believe, as I did, that America's dislike for them both is record-breaking.

It's more accurate to say that America's dislike for her is above normal, and dislike for Trump -- that's record breaking. Seriously.

Accepting the news without studying it, I believed the lie that Trump and Hillary were similarly disliked.

The data shows that was untrue.

I accepted it true because I had no grounds to disbelieve. Until I did the research.

And now, I know it's kind of bullshit.

Shit sticks.

If you pay attention to the media you'll see that everyone gets lambasted pretty heavily. Here's what the picture looks like.

Everyone's got plenty of negative news coverage. Which gives open minded people good reasons to think worse of each of the candidates than they deserve. And we do.

We pretty much dislike them all. We dislike some more than others, but they're all slime -- because we don't know which accusations are true, and we can't check them all out. So we believe almost all of the negative press.

What the chart doesn't show is how much of the negative and the positive is being believed -- again, by open minded people.

And it doesn't show how the shit builds up over time. Twenty four years of shit flung at her. Some of it will have stuck. It has to have stuck.

And once enough sticks, there's a human tendency to assume that the next bit of shit is true. Not "I don't know." Because now we have prior information on which to base a conscious decision. It's "yeah, I guess I believe that."

This is "confirmation bias," the well-studied mechanism that causes people to interpret new information and to recall information in ways that confirms what they've already concluded. Confirmation bias can be slight or severe. Someone who has swallowed the Trumpian Kook-aid and decided that Hillary is a crook will enthusiastically believe any suggestion of criminality. Someone, like me, who thinks they are open minded, will no longer give her the benefit of the doubt.

But even giving her the benefit of the doubt makes no difference. Without strong evidence to refute a criticism, we believe it.

My view of Hillary Clinton? I still don't like her. I haven't for years. I have reasons for disliking her, but the reasons that I have -- examined dispassionately -- don't match the degree of distaste I feel for her. I've been watching shit flung at her for a quarter of a century, and enough has stuck to compromise my view.

I know it, but that doesn't matter. Writing an essay acknowledging that I have an unfair view of her makes scant difference.

I don't like her. And I'm convinced that she does not deserve my dislike.

If you are an open minded person I'm going to guess the same is true for you.

Trump, on the other hand? I don't listen to the Democrat echo chambers -- or the Republican ones, so I don't come with nearly a quarter a century of built up baggage.

Instead, open minded as I am, I formed my opinions based on facts -- by actually listening to what he said. In a field of people spouting the same tired platitudes, he stood out.

I heard him take down Jeb Bush over his brother's stupid war in Iraq. Way to go Donald! About time someone did that!

And he was against the war from the start. Did I know that was true? Well, no. I did not. I had no evidence. So I put it in the "understood, but not known to be true" category. Which I hope you now know means: I believed it.

But -- wait. Facts.

Here's a collection of facts from one of those annoying fact-checking organization. There's Trumps whole timeline of public statements on the war, starting with this -- a year after 9/11 and before the invasion:
Sept. 11, 2002: Howard Stern asks Trump if he supports invading Iraq. Trump answers hesitantly. “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Wow! You can listen to the take down. If you want to hear it yourself it's at 3:40 on the Soundcloud clip linked to the quote.

Stern: "Are you for invading Iraq?"
Trump: "I guess so." 
I'm not sure if the way he hesitates before saying "I guess so" shows that he's totally against it. I actually I think "I guess so," means that he guesses he's for it. But maybe that's just me.

But that's not all. There are more examples of him not opposing the war before he finally opposed it. Like this, from an interview in 2003:
Trump: "The main thing is to get the war over with and just make it a tremendously successful campaign and it will be very interesting to see what kind of weapons they find."
See his criticism there?

Don't see it?

Neither do I, actually. It kind of sounds like he's in favor of it, and he just wants it done efficiently. And he actually believes weapons will be found.

For more on the subject of reflexively believing what we read and hear, read this article "Do we believe everything we're told" with lots of links to other good stuff.

The short answer, sadly is: unless we're sure it's false, yes, we believe it.

As pointed out by such diverse thinkers as Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr, predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Nonetheless I'm going to make a few.

Hillary Clinton's negatives are based on 24 years of flung shit plus anger from the Bernie Sanders side of the left. If she and Bernie kiss and make up, which I expect, her negatives will go down significantly.

Donald Trump's record-setting negatives are not going down, and despite some half-dead monkey voters that will love him nearly to the end, they will go up because more and more Republican candidates from Blue states will disavow him. As they have started doing.

And the media. As the media story shifts from: "Trump the insurgent" and "both are disliked" to today's "Poll: 70% have unfavorable opinion of Trump" then I predict reality will imitate art, and more will jump ship.

Lesson learned. To reserve judgment is to believe.

Jun 14, 2016

Simple illusions and multi-layered illusions. They're all just illusions.

In an earlier post I wrote that ideas are illusions. They have to be, I argued. Must be.


What we perceive of reality must be an illusion. Must be.

The conventional self is an illusion, too. Check and see.

So how could ideas not be illusions as well?

I described my experience looking at an idea -- the happiness I was feeling as I wrote that post. I looked carefully, which is what you do to see if something is an illusion or not. I saw it as an illusion. And as the illusion disappeared, as I saw through it, I found myself looking at something better -- life with one illusion less.

Would it also be true for sadness and anger? I wondered. What if I did the same thing?

...will it work? I don't know. I'm not angry. Or sad. Or depressed. I kind of wish I was. I almost can't wait.
Be careful what you "kind of wish for." You may just "kind of get it."

A day later it was utter exhaustion, and sadness. I didn't try looking at the exhaustion to see if it was an illusion, but after a day of exhaustion, nothing done, I was sad. And I decided to examine that sadness to see if was an illusion.

It was. But there was a trick.

Pay attention, and I'll tell you what I learned.

Some ideas are pleasant and useful. Like happiness. We'd like to keep happiness around. And if we looked at something like happiness we might see it as an illusion or not. If not, it'd be a welcome thought. If we did, it's be a welcome illusions. Whatever it was, it would be welcome. And it might persist even after being looked at. We might even hope it would persist.

Other ideas are unpleasant, even harmful. Like sadness. We'd like to get rid of sadness. If we looked at sadness and saw it was an illusion we'd want to dispose of it and quickly, too. Remain without illusions. Or replace it with a happier illusion.

So, on a theoretical basis, we can expect that an unpleasant illusion will be gotten rid of if it's seen as an illusion, and it will persist only if it's not obviously an illusion.

The guiding rule I got from "Waking Up" (in my words, not Sam Harris') for determining whether something is an illusion is this: "If you look at something closely disappears, it was an illusion. If it changes into something else, then it was probably an illusion. Only if it persists, unchanged, except perhaps for detail, can you begin to believe that it's not an illusion.

I examined self; the closer I looked the more certain I became: there's no self there, only the world. Self was gone. An illusion.

I examined happiness; again -- the closer I look the more I saw the world, and not my happiness. Happiness was gone. An illusion.

Now, faced with sadness, I did the same thing-- I looked. And I felt even sadder. The sadness did not disappear. It didn't fade out. It got worse. So happiness is an illusion but sadness was not. Soren Kierkegaard would like that. It's not an illusion.

I looked more carefully. If looking at sadness had lightened the feeling, it would have encouraged me to look again, look still closer. If I did that, then perhaps it would have vanished. But looking at sadness worsened the feeling. And that encouraged me to stop looking, which ...

 ...but it did change! The fact that it got worse was a change. So maybe...

I looked more closely and saw the change again, and then the pattern came clear. The more I looked, the sadder I got. The superficial sadness was an illusion -- but it was hiding a deeper sadness. I looked at that. Also an illusion, hiding even more sadness. I looked again. And got sadder. And then again. And then suddenly, some number of layers down, no sadness to be found. Just me and the universe..

Sadness gone. All of it. So an illusion.

And if you think about it, it makes sense for happiness to be one kind of illusion and for sadness to be another. I'm not saying that one of these is the way my particular sadness came about. But these are reasonable explanations, and one of them, or a blend of them, or something like them, might fit.

1. If someone designed an unpleasant illusion and if wanted it to persist, here's what they'd do: They'd create the most unpleasant illusion they could create. On top of that they'd layer another illusion, not quite so bad. And on top of that, one that was still less unpleasant. As the outer illusions dissolved (or whatever they do) the inner, worse thing would appear. Inspection would stop, and the illusion would persist. Done. Not saying there's an evil twin inside my head doing this, but if there was one, that's what he would do.

2. If mental phenomena evolve -- instead of being designed -- the ones that survived would be the ones that persisted most effectively. A mild feeling of sadness -- easy too look at it, glance at it, and it's gone -- would not have much success. Even an intense sadness -- hard to look at it, but once you look, it's gone -- would not have much success. A layered illusion -- changes when you look at it, but it gets better, so encouraging further examination -- would do better, but still it would disappear. But, the kind of layered illusion I've described -- crappy on the outside, and horrible awful on the inside -- would do the best.

3. Supposing a mental experience like sadness arises and instead of looking to see if it is an illusion, We accept it as real and "try to make it better." And we do. It's better. Now we've got a bad illusion, not gone, with a layer of betterness on top of it. An illusion within an illusion. Lather, rinse, repeat, and there you have it.

Three ways to build what I experienced.

Whatever the mechanism of operation, my self-conducted, admittedly confirmation-bias-prone experiment seems to confirm what thousands of years of practice by students of mindfulness have found: all mental phenomena are illusions. Some simple. Some complex. All illusions.

So what about tomorrow? What illusions will tomorrow bring?

It might be exhaustion. It's 1:33 and I haven't slept yet. So is exhaustion an illusion? Or is some part of it an illusion.

I don't know. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

Jun 7, 2016

Ideas are illusions -- we're only in trouble when we think they are real

Realized again, more profoundly: Every idea is an illusion. 

There's nothing wrong with having an illusion if it helps or entertains us. There's a problem when an illusion leads us to unhappiness, dysfunction, dissatisfaction, or anger.

Too often there are illusions that lead there.

The illusion of self, a self we must defend and protect, is the source of much misery. Not me, not now But once upon a time.

Happiness, too, is an illusion.

When I looked, in a moment of happiness at the happiness and the "me" that was being happy to see if was an illusion, my experience was a lot like the one I've reliably had when I look inward for toward my "self."
When I see through the illusion of self I suddenly find myself looking outward. Instead of a self, I discover the world.

Same for happiness.

Unfortunately I'm not angry right now, so I can't do the experiment, but I think the end result of looking at anger would be the same -- everything would vanish but consciousness.

But I think the illusion of anger will be harder to see through because anger has a will of its own. It wants to survive. No one is merely angry. We are "right" to be angry.

Of course, that's utter nonsense. There is no right to be angry and anger does not make us right. Anger can be useful, but only -- like illusions -- if we are in charge.

Anger is a particularly nasty customer because it lies like a cheap rug. It tells us that "we" are angry. It tells you it's valuable. It's there for a reason. It's justified. It's your friend. If you let go of your anger it must be because you are weak. Or because to do so is to admit that the issue that provoked the anger does not matter. So you don't care. Worse, because you will lose (and losing, of course, is not an illusion). Even worse letting go of anger repeatedly makes you a loser.


So stay angry my friend. So says anger.

These are all tricks that this illusion uses to keep you from looking. Distraction. Misdirection. Anything but examination. Because if you look, simply look, openly ask "Is this an illusion or not?" it's game over for an illusion. Goodbye anger. And sadness. And depression.

And happiness, too. But that's OK. If you want more, you can make more. After all, it's just an illusion.

So will it work? I don't know. I'm not angry. Or sad. Or depressed. I kind of wish I was. I almost can't wait.

So is wanting to write.

The thing that's interesting is that the way for me to write is to get "wanting to write" out of the way. By looking at it.

Illusion out the way, writing appears.

Also an illusion, but a better kind.

Jun 4, 2016

Here, there, and everywhere

There's exactly one thing that we know cannot be an illusion: one thing, and one thing only -- consciousness. We can be fooled about everything else. We can see mirages, hear ringing in our ears, be tricked by magicians. We can take drugs that cause us to see things that violate all the laws of physics. But we can't be tricked into believing we are conscious: to be tricked we must first be conscious. We can be tricked into believing we are not conscious, but we can't be tricked into believing that we are.

So our own consciousness can't be an illusion. But everything can be an illusion. And indeed everything else must be an illusion. Stronger, or weaker, but still an illusion.

I'm not saying "might be an illusion." I'm saying "must be." And I'm not saying that there's no such thing as reality. I'm saying that what we see, hear, and otherwise perceive of reality must be an illusion. Because whatever we are, we have no way to directly contact reality.

Consider: when we point our cell phone cameras at real, three dimensional objects, light enters the lens, strikes a photosensor array, is processed by a combination of software and hardware and is rendered as a pattern of illumination on the flat screen of the phone. The patterns give us the illusion of seeing real objects. But we know it's just an illusion. The reality is just the flat, glowing screen.

When we point our eyes at real, three dimensional objects, light enters our eyes, strikes photosensitive cells, and is processed by a webs of neurons discharging electropotentials and emiting neurotransmitters. Somehow, the cascade of discharges and emissions gives us the illusion of seeing real objects. But that must also just  be an illusion.

Reality may exist, but what we see of it must be an illusion.

Reading Sam Harris' book "Waking Up" caused me to realize that my conventional self is also an illusion. I wrote about the experience here and again here and other places as well, because I keep waking up -- becoming conscious -- which can't be an illusion -- and aware of a self, which I rediscover is an illusion.

So here I am, a self is an illusion, perceiving a here and now that is an illusion.

So I imagine myself in a different place and a different time -- fin Italy, a year ago for Dana and Daniel's wedding. I can see the gardens. And I know it's an illusion.

So what's the difference?

The illusion of being here, now, in 2016, in my home in Maine, writing this, is stronger than the illusion of being Italy in 2015. But that doesn't change the fact that both are illusions.

And the idea that I have to choose between them? Maybe that's just another illusion. Maybe I can be both here alone now typing AND in Italy a year ago. Why choose? What does that gain me?

Nothing. I conclude. It's better for me to be in both places than to pick just one.

Being here and now AND in Italy a year ago, or here and now AND in Hong Kong at some undefined time in the past is vastly superior to just being here and now.

Italy is gorgeous. So is Hong Kong.

You can join me, if you want. Or you can travel through time and space to Maine, June 4, 2016, and sit with me as I write this.