Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I have started a new quarter at school. This is my first time taking a full load of credits during the summer. I am taking a class called "Art of the Book". It involves printmaking, book binding, writing, type setting, etc. I am very much looking forward to this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Other people's beliefs.

Sometime more than one year ago, but less than two, a person made a comment to me about how the beliefs of religiously fundamental people are best explained by psychological factors. At the time I agreed, however there was something about it I felt uncomfortable with. 

I have thought about the comment frequently since it was made, and only recently did I realize why I felt uncomfortable with it.

I think it represents something many of us, including myself, do frequently. That is, to  limit the beliefs of those we disagree with to merely fulfilling some psychological need, while feeling our own beliefs are free from any such entanglement. In a sense implying that if others had all their psychological needs met then they would believe and see the world as we do and that our beliefs are the only 'pure' beliefs.

Religious people often feel that those who don't believe in God or religion are in reality looking for excuse to 'sin' and be 'bad'   and so pretend to not believe in God  so as to allow themselves justification for behaving immorally.
 At the same time many Atheists and non-religious people like to limit the beliefs of religious people to being nothing more than a tool for comfort (ie. opiate of the masses). 
To be sure, it seems both views have some truth. I am sure there are some people who would otherwise believe in God but suppress that belief to reduce whatever discomfort they might otherwise feel when engaging in certain forbidden behavior. As well I'm sure  there are religious people who hold their beliefs only as a useful tool to comfort themselves. 
However, by and large I think most people hold their beliefs because as they see the world,  the evidence supports their beliefs.
(I am using religion as an example because it is an easy one, but this phenomenon applies to all sorts of divided beliefs. One could apply it to meat eaters and vegetarians, or conservatives and liberals or a million other things) 

For some reason, it seems we have a hard time accepting that others don't see the world as we do, and so we need to create reasons why their way of believing is less pure than our own. If we see those who disagree with us as being irrational then it is much easier to feel comfortable with our current beliefs than if we recognize that their are intelligent psychologically healthy people who simply interpret the vast data surrounding us in different ways.  It is funny how often people accuse other groups of people of having cognitive dissonance.  I am reading a book called 'The Spiritual Brain' where a neuroscientist tries to make a case for the spiritual realm via neuroscience(it is not good, I do not recommend it). The author repeatedly accuses non-spirit believing scientists of cognitive dissonance and avoiding contradictory evidence. I know many materialist scientists accuse faithful scientists of the same thing.

It is true that certain belief systems fulfill psychological needs  in some way. Probably all belief systems do to some degree. But just because a belief does fulfill a psychological need or desire, doesn't mean that belief isn't true (it also doesn't mean the belief is true). Someone may have an interest in science because they find it comforting or interesting to learn mechanisms of how our world works, this doesn't make science less valid. Many people practice religion because it brings comfort and order to their lives. This doesn't make religion any less valid. Of course, if a belief system only  fulfills psychological needs, and the only reason a person could possibly hold a certain belief is because of wish fulfillment, then that belief would be suspect, but very few beliefs are actually this way, despite how much we often see our opponents beliefs as being this way.

We often experience cartoon like exaggerations of opponents view points. When I read critics of evolution, I notice their portrayal of evolution is often grossly mistaken. They claim it would be irrational for someone to believe such a thing and often they are right, because as they portray the theory of evolution it is irrational for someone to believe such a thing. Since we generally only interact with those we agree with and read things by those we agree with, we tend to develop very distorted views of our opponents beliefs, to the point that if someone actually held the beliefs we think they do, they would irrational.

Having held radically opposed belief systems myself  has been helpful for me to recognize the sincerity of others beliefs. When I had a strong belief in God and religion, I think there were times when I saw those who didn't as wanting to justify a certain lifestyle. Now that I do not have a strong belief in God or religion, I recognize that whatever factors may be behind my belief, I am no more or less sincere in my current belief than I was in my former belief. When I look back on my believing self, given what I knew then, I feel it was reasonable for me to believe as I did then, which is something I need to repeatedly remind myself when I think about others who are currently in the circumstance I once was.

I think many of our conflicts in life, both on a large scale and small scale, would be a lot more productive if we allowed those we disagree with us the benefit of holding rational beliefs.  As well we would be able to see those we disagree with as more human if we recognized that given a person's knowledge and situation it is reasonable for them to hold the beliefs that they do. Most people generally don't take an argument against their belief seriously unless they recognize that the person arguing against them really understands what the belief is, as well as how one could reasonably hold such a belief.
The more segmented we are becoming because of our diverse media options, the less we are exposed to any opposing views. The less we understand opposing views, the less we can relate to the people who hold them and see them as having the same rights and worth that we do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

There and back again.

Marissa and I have returned from our Arizona vacation. We had went to to see her 19 year old sister get married.

On our way to Phoenix we drove down the coast of Oregon and California, which was beautiful, then cut over in Los Angelouis (Armstrong). On our way home we drove up through Utah and Idaho, which is, surprisingly, slightly longer than the coastal route, but not surprisingly much, much more boring. Though, if i had air conditioner, I wouldn't be bored driving through the most monotonous desert for 48 hours because of how much I love road trips. Why am I not a cross country trucker? Because I am a fool.

One highlight from the trip was our stop in San Francisco, which I described as a cross between New York and Portland. Some describe it as the homosexual capital of the world. It has the Highest percentage of homosexuals of any other city, with 15.4% homosexuals, only my neighboring city Seattle comes in close with 12.9% preferring butt piracy to other pirate forms.

We wanted to explore the city and our inner fudge packer, but our first priority was to find a Rite-Aid. We had a prescription we needed to fill in Olympia, but the rite-aid in our town was closed for a so-called 'Memorial Day', and there are no rite-aids in Arizona, so this was our last chance before the stores would close, or we reach Arizona. We had the address for a Rite-Aid and spent almost two hours on our feet, (most of it in a ghetto, that was actually really fun and exciting for me) trying to find it. We finally realized the reason we were having such a hard time finding it is because it had just been turned into a Wal-Greens! We were both fairly discouraged, tired and hungry by this point, but it turned out we were right by one of the best vegetarian restaurants either of us had ever eaten at. And a car crash occured about 15 feet from our seat while we were eating.

As we left the restaurant, we noticed police redirecting cars and buses away from the street we were on. I had earlier noticed several people carrying signs about prop 8, which I thought might be due to some anomoly in the fabric of space/time, until I remembered this happened to be the day when the California Supreme court was voting whether or not to uphold Prop 8.

Not long after we witness thousands and thousands of people marching down the street, carrying signs and chanting. At the very front of the group was a nerdy 18 yr old Asian (ie. Russia or India, j/k, the Orient) guy texting on his phone, who seemed as if were unaware 20,000 people were behind him protesting. As if he just happened to be walking in the middle of the street at the same time the march formed, but felt too uncomfortable to either change his route or join in.

We debated whether we should join the texting Asian guy or the protest group, and eventualy decided to let peer pressure decide or values and we joined the larger group, marching and chanting and being filmed by the local news. It was exhilarating to be part of such a group. I have participated in protests and rallys before, but never in a way that felt so relevant. Protesting the Iraq war in downtown Salt Lake doesn't have the same feeling as protesting in the homosexual capital of the world hours after the California Supreme Court voted to uphold discrimination against them.

Other interesting and fun things happened on the trip. Over all it was very enjoyable. I always love to travel, especially by car. I love the high that comes after hours and hours of driving and drinking caffeine. I love getting to see places I have never seen. I love the feeling of freedom I have while traveling. Whatever obligations, responsibilities and commitments I normally have to people and things while at home are all gone on the road and in it's place a sense of freedom and wonder.