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Everything posted by Improbability

  1. NZ atheists are too hardcore for Americans to compete with.
  2. This launched today and runs through 11/22. It aims to produce insights about secular Americans that could be used to improve advocacy. https://www.secularsurvey.org/
  3. Stolen from my local humanist group's newsletter: "Turning vegan would be a big missed steak." Some of the principles are compelling though difficult to independently assess. Actually making principled choices is hard when it affects something that's so ingrained into lifestyle and day-to-day experience. I've had that experience (years back for weight loss), but there was a gun to my head in terms of health. It's easy to look around at all the other ambiguities and ills in our supply chains and lose a sense of urgency about it. We have to compartmentalize to live. This is an area where we really need leadership from our agencies to do the hard work about the science and sustainability and put forth suggestions that are realistic on a societal scale. And sadly, corporate interests along with a fingers-in-ears mentality from the populous all but guarantees that won't happen.
  4. As a great theologian from the 23rd century put it, "what does god need with a starship"?
  5. They're all tragic. Even success stories have to look back on years of wasted potential and private mental struggle and suffering.
  6. I think that gets you in trouble with Zeno's Paradox if you try to use it as a physical explanation. An event horizon may be an apt metaphor for this conceptual barrier that we can't imagine the other side of, and in my own mind I don't have a better image for it, but it can't be a physical thing without breaking our intuition of time; not that such an intuition does us much good on a cosmic scale. I just want to be able to lounge in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and ogle the annihilation of the cosmos while sipping something fruity. That elevation to godlike status goes far beyond whatever piddly self awareness we got from the Tree of Life, and if there's an appeal to the theistic view of the world, it's that there's a chance to know what to our limited, ephemeral minds is always going to be hopelessly out of reach. There's a trippy little game called Everything that takes on the preposterous challenge of representing the entire scale of the universe from subatomic to intergalactic, and the clever bit is that the inconceivably big loops around to the inconceivably small through a weird, incomprehensible bridging phase where the scale stops mattering and you realize that the existential mechanics you've been learning all along mean the same thing no matter what modality you're currently inhabiting.
  7. You might be on to something. It's probably important to distinguish between contextual nothing and absolute nothing. Contextual nothing is defined relative to the lack of something. It requires an observer to make that distinction which implies a context where there is not nothing. Absolute nothing on the other hand is total nihility. This is less useful for finding a basis for understanding because it precludes us or anything resembling us; even a single atom is not absolute nothing. Contextual nothing is the only nothing we have a hope of bending our minds to really understand, but it doesn't answer the question of where the context came from which loops back around to the beginning and makes me wonder if there's any potential for the question itself to have meaning.
  8. It's just the classic head scratcher of how you could ever get to "now" if time recedes infinitely back into the past. From our time-bound perspective, there has to be some kind of "beginning", but even if such a transcendental event occurred, it's still not something we're really equipped to understand.
  9. This is the fundamental question of the human condition. There isn’t a perfect answer. In religion, there are doors to open, but they don’t lead anywhere. Outside of it, there’s only the sky above your head, but you’re free to find your own purpose. Time helps. Relationships help, but it can be hard to find the same sense of community outside of faith which is more self-organizing. What satisfies you is going to be individual. It may be an intellectual pursuit or just a set of comforts and distractions. It’s okay, because it’s yours, and that growing, unapologetic identity will become one of your biggest anchors. Looking back, you’ll realize ways that your old worldview was small, and there’s just no going to it even if the new perspective is more challenging. If you’re still working free of the wreckage of your old life, definitely give it time. Work on living for this life instead of in spite of it.
  10. Perhaps for some definitions of time and nothing. The interior of a black hole is effectively lost to our frame of reference, its contents trending asymptotically towards nothingness, but that’s a different kind of nothing than nothing at all. Verses like Rev. 10:6 are evocative (though it requires some cherry picking from the surrounding lunacy). If time can end by divine fiat just like it supposedly began, then so called eternal life is nothing like our mortal conception. But there’s no evidence that the universe works that way.
  11. That was tongue in cheek, but it’s true that we can’t even conclude that there was a prior state, let alone what it might have looked like, or whether it’s even something that could be considered past tense according to our mortally bound conception of time. But we can’t extrapolate what we know about where we are without paradox either, so I don’t know what to suggest other than some kind of exotic state change or that there’s something fundamental that we still don’t understand about the nature of space and time. I’m a lot happier with the theories of modern physics than the millennia old musings of early thinkers who didn’t have the evidence we now do.
  12. So convenient! In the analogy I stubbed out earlier (was traveling), the fallen tree is the something we can perceive. The forest is nothing, or more specifically what is outside our possible frame of reference. We can’t rationalize the achievement of existence in our own terms; it’s an unreachable temporal paradox, but we can put in a placeholder for that thing we can’t express and treat it abstractly. The question is not whether the falling tree made a sound (could be observed without an observer); it’s how it came into that state to begin with. If there is a god, then it is an observer or perhaps an agent of that change, but they’re more part of the forest than the tree. We weren’t there, and all we know is that there is something, a fallen tree, probably. Our mind dismisses the tree/sound question format as pointless. Maybe something weird happened, but it probably didn’t, and I think the same goes for god. The notion of contextual layers we can’t access also reminds me of monads in Category Theory. They’re like a semantic container that doesn’t expose the concept directly, but can process it indirectly. I don’t think there’s an algebraic solution for “god”, but maybe mathematical abstraction can be a logical tool sometimes. ...huh, guess the math follows from the philosophy in this case.
  13. This reminds me of the “if a tree falls in the forest” question, though I’m not sure offhand if there’s a useful way to phrase it in those terms.
  14. I don’t think this is a question we as a species have the capacity to answer. We are temporal beings, but time is about frame of reference, and that implies the contrasted something. If there’s nothing, then there’s no time, and there’s no us. Just being there to observe it violates the definition. We can imagine a higher dimension than our own, but we can’t access or even perceive it. So we can fantasize about outside mechanisms and causality, but it’s unlikely to ever be a matter of provable science. I can’t say what we can’t know, and wouldn’t discourage the pursuit; but it’s not something I lose much sleep over. I don’t think the human unknowability is a satisfying argument for a creator. Such a creature might be outside of our frame of reference, but if so, then who is god’s god? Or, more directly, why wouldn’t they have a context of their own? It’s lazy to use the argument to go out a level, but then deny that there could be further ones. And any such mechanical concept of god argues against the personal relationship that Christianity preaches. Such a being is beyond our comprehension and rational concern. (And if god had a god, what would it mean for us if he rejected that being’s version of redemption?)
  15. It's a memed clip from a 2004 debate. Hovind gish gallops through some pseudoscientific gibberish where the central point is that god is bigger than the perceivable universe...because he says so. Q.E.D.
  16. I relate to some of this. I think it's important to remember that Christianity has a pretty grim perspective of the human condition and fatalistic view of civilization. I was raised in it and have remained in its shadow long into my adult life. My ability to orient and relate in the world has been compromised by this upbringing, and I have compassion for anyone dealing with the same thing. Sociopathy isn't the answer, but it can be hard to see how anything matters until you've gotten some distance and matured in your own post-religious identity. After years of being broken down by manipulation and dogma, selfishness is not a simple thing to relearn how to healthily accept and balance.
  17. Again, thanks for the encouraging replies. I tried to give some more detail mid-week because I didn't want to completely ghost, but it's hard to make the time to think about difficult things amid the stress of day-to-day life, and though quiet introspection can also be very difficult, I've been looking forward to the opportunity this weekend to continue to mull things over because it does feel like progress even if it's slow. I appreciate the "pull the ripcord" responses because that's eventually going to be the impetus I need. But it's not in my nature to make hasty decisions, and there are a number of reasons to stay the course for at least a little while. Health insurance, for one thing is a lot simpler when you're still employed, and I have some upcoming maintenance that it's better (for me at least) to address first. There is a clock on the overall situation, so even if I do procrastinate it won't be forever. It's true that I ultimately need to do what's best for me and that I've wasted a lot of time already, but I don't want to leave a smoking crater in my wake. It's not a good look professionally, and it's not who I want to be. @Margee, you're so right that moderation, pragmatism and self-care are all important. There's an impulse to push away hard, but it's not really my character to be dogmatic (in either direction), and especially when it comes to relationships there's a risk of forcing the issue unnecessarily or in a hurtful way because I'm just reacting and not really grounded yet. I've had years to adjust to the fact that I didn't believe, but because I stayed I wasn't forced to confront the uncomfortable task of really replacing it. Self-flagellation (metaphorical) is going to be a tough habit to shake. I've always been of two minds, nurturing an inner pride and willfulness while also seeing myself in a generally negative way. It's healthy to keep a grounded self view, but I do hope to be rid of some of this baggage eventually. @MOHO, it's interesting being in a position of long-closeted disbelief. I never had much interest in the rigorous theological aspects, and I got to the point of concluding that it just wasn't workable (or real) more though experience than exhaustive study. Coming from a fundamentalist background, I think I'm conditioned by teaching and circumstance to not want to look too closely. But I've changed over the years, and the availability and accessibility of information has changed, and though it's easy to protest that I'm not an academic equipped to plumb the depths, I don't have much excuse beyond laziness and avoidance. I spent some time today watching a video series from Bart Ehrman about how Christ came to be seen as God that I saw linked from somewhere, and it really shed light for me on how narrow and insular the fundamentalist view I've been exposed to is. I did have a meeting with a therapist this week. In some ways it was as I expected, and in some ways it wasn't. There is definitely a structure of expectation that I'm not just there to vent but to be realistic about what I need to accomplish so he can help me. The thought process of trying to answer some of those questions has been constructive. I'm there to learn, and I may learn that it's not a channel that I actually need much of, but as an exercise it's already playing the facilitating role that I hoped it might, and I'm feeling a little more confidence that if the time comes that I need to represent myself to specific people in difficult ways that I'll be able to do so. It is also a novel and refreshing experience to be able to have an open and unobfuscated conversation about these things. This is stuff that I've never told anyone in person, and being able to say it and realize I felt confident saying it was validating. There may not be much regular progress to relate. I have a road map, but I don't know exactly where it's going, and I'm taking this a week at a time. Over the past few weeks, I've felt very deadlocked, and while I still have a great deal to do, I'm not feeling as conflicted about it. I won't turn this into a diary, but I will follow up as it seems appropriate.
  18. Hey all, thanks for the replies. There are things I've been vague about because my story is unusual enough that I don't think someone in this sphere would have much trouble putting it together. It's probably delusional, but part of living this life is an outsized fear of discovery. ("Your sin will find you out.") The day will come when I'll be able to be more open about it, and hopefully look back on all of this with a very different perspective. Writing this out is absolutely a therapeutic exercise. I won't go into detail, but there's a precipitating factor I became aware of a few weeks ago that broke through my walls and reminded me of the precariousness of my position. Since then I've spent a great deal of time reflecting and adjusting, but I've felt paralyzed from taking any real action. Talking about it can be a form of procrastination (to which I'm prone), but it also removes some of the power it holds. I don't quite know yet what I'm going to do or how this is going to go, but I feel a little closer having put it out there than when it was all in my head, and the understanding replies mean a lot. I'm used to being self-sufficient, and it's surreal to face a decision that's bigger than I know how to make on my own. I wanted to communicate circumstance and emotion, but spelling it all out comes across a bit dramatic. It's sincere and largely necessary, but it's not my whole mind. There's a part of me that's stuck on the hamster wheel of doubt and worry, but also a part that's detached and methodical and going through business as usual while trying to work constructively on the problem. Staying the course right now is not difficult, and external circumstances are not going to force me to make any drastic decision for a while; it's just that it's become clear now that there's a clock on it. My background is in software, and I don't expect that interest to change. Part of that skill set is extremely fungible. But after all these years in one place, a large part of it is also very proprietary, and seeing over the horizon to where I'm able to be accepted and productive in a different setting is intimidating. I have many avenues to explore on that front; I know it's just a matter of time and conviction which will come. The loss of all the applied knowledge and history and purpose I have now may be the harder thing to come to terms with. I have to remind myself that being able to play that role in the first place is such a unique privilege of this moment in history and not something I should take for granted. I think my most important struggle right now is with foundation. I've lived for so long in a context that all of my decisions and intuition were oriented to. Now that it's being challenged, I'm realizing my vulnerability. Much of that is circumstantial. I was never in so deep that religion became my whole identity, though it did perturb it. But I may need better answers for "why" before the "what" comes into focus. And while I may not have to justify myself to anyone, if it comes to it, I want to be better prepared to express who I am and what I do or don't believe. Getting this out emboldened me to connect with a local secular therapist who I'll be meeting with soon. I don't know quite what to expect from that. It may or may not be something that I really need, but it will be a learning experience either way.
  19. I've struggled with writing (and rewriting) this post. I'm not sure that I should. I'm not sure how specific I can be. I'm not sure this is the right place or the right time. I'm not sure if there's much point to it. I'm embarrassed and discouraged by my own failure and inadequacy, even as I wish I could avoid having to change. I know I don't belong in my current life, but it's hard to imagine finding a place of belonging outside of it either. I don't have a story of deep trauma or abuse or misfortune, but I'm living a stilted half-life of wasted potential. It feels self-indulgent to elevate my own hardship amidst so much other privilege and in comparison to what others have experienced. Even with accommodating internet strangers, I'm afraid to be honest because the reflection is something I don't want to confront. Part of me understands that I probably need to seek counseling or therapy, but that's the start of a journey that I'm afraid to begin (and a tangent to what I really need to do). Meanwhile I'm stuck in my own head writing self-exploratory pablum to try to break the paralysis. I'm a closeted non-believer working faithlessly at a well-known fundamentalist Christian institution in the bible belt. I've been here for many years, but I'm single, socially isolated and have had very little responsibility or direct expectation in spiritual matters in my role which has made my apostasy practical to conceal and the cognitive burden of my deception and hypocrisy easier to compartmentalize and avoid. I came as a student because I had no ambition or direction in my life and it satisfied the expectations of my family and church community. I remained as an employee because it was an effortless transition that continued a vocational purpose I'd already established through internship and was the easiest way to maintain a religious facade for my geographically-distant home life when in my heart the struggle with the cycle of sin, guilt and repentance was all but abandoned. I didn't find a personal relationship with god here, but in maintaining the lie I didn't find myself either. I stayed through the years that followed because it's what I knew, even as local friends moved away leaving me in an improbable but stable position as someone who is diligent, valued and trusted, but spends most of the rest of their time in deliberate obscurity and isolation pursuing private secular interests. I'm in my 40s. I have a technical degree and many years of experience applying those skills in a strategically important role for a commercial subsidiary of this place. But my longevity has become a liability. I'm gifted and dedicated with incomparable knowledge in my area, but that uniqueness makes me dangerous because I would be disastrously expensive to have to suddenly replace. And for my part, the mental and emotional toll of leaving my life's work and a position of agency and facility has reached a point that is profoundly intimidating. I can't do exactly what I'm doing here anywhere else, and it will take significant time and effort to rebuild myself professionally. That's assuming my unaccredited degree is worth a damn, I have any sort of reputation (this is the only meaningful thing on a resume that I've never actually had to use) and that I have the acuity in my middle years to retool and adapt. I have confidence in what I've achieved, but I've always felt a sense of impostor's syndrome in my field, and I know the weight what I have now exerts in my sense of day-to-day purpose and emotional stability. But moving on is unavoidable. Whatever influences lodged me here, the decision to stay so long is my own. Every year I sign a statement of faith I don't believe, and though it rarely comes up in a practical way, I'm misrepresenting myself and creating an operational risk. (I'm not bitter against this place and don't want to hurt it.) The last few years I've become more politically conscious, and I can't avoid the fact that I'm working (sacrificially no less) for a creationist, pro-life, conservative organization when my own beliefs are diametrically opposed. Finally, it's likely that my ability to fly under the radar with my lack of personal religious observance is going to end soon forcing me to double down on hypocrisy and impersonation of a persona I'm deeply uncomfortable with if I want to remain. Ethically, mentally and professionally, this was never okay and can't continue in its current form. I still have time (months, perhaps) to make the move on my own terms, but it's surreal and difficult to even begin to confront. At some point, I'm going to have to sit in someone's office and explain how in this one, stupid, irrelevant area of my life I've been a fraud and a traitor. I no longer struggle meaningfully with faith. I was raised in this culture and believed (in fear) through my adolescent and college years. I made public professions. I sought a relationship with god. But I'm also an introvert, and guilt over my failings as a sinner always included guilt that I didn't want to be seen, didn't love the company of other believers (or people in general) and was afraid of discipleship, accountability and integration. Following the teachings of Christ goes against not just my human nature but my individual one, and I never found the spiritual connection or psycho-social reinforcement to make it work, even though it might be easier in so many ways if I had. But it's difficult to exorcise such an established part of your upbringing and education and circumstances. My rejection of the dogma is a reaction, not successful replacement of it. And fundamentalist thinking is so disciplined and refined that I'm never going to be completely free of the viewpoint. This background adds its own complexity to the prospect of having to decouple my life from this place. Even in my disbelief and distance, I find comfort in the known and familiar and fear leaving it. I don't have many significant human relationships, and they're all tainted by this lie and by the insulation it creates. My father has passed, but my mother is devout, even more so since she retired. She's perceived that I'm disengaged from faith, but it's different to be non-confrontational and still serving than to actively walk away. Explaining whatever happens is going to be hard. I know it will hurt her if she becomes convinced that I'm going to burn for eternity in hell, and I don't know if I can ultimately spare her that. My best friend lives hours away and still clings to faith even as his life is imploding due to unemployment, alcoholism and domestic dysfunction. I can't challenge his hope in the hereafter when the rest of his life is going to shit. So I'm alone as I confront this decision, though it tests the limits of my independence and self-reliance. One of the sad things about fundamentalism is that the doctrine of separation discourages honesty; there is help and forgiveness for the contrite, but what you admit has consequences that may lead to exclusion, so there is no counseling that isn't adversarial and no truth that isn't also potentially punitive. Ultimately, I don't know what I hope for in life. I enjoy entertainments and distractions, but I know they don't ultimately satisfy. I'm typical in my sexual orientation, but I've never had a serious relationship or wanted children. I'm not incapable of empathy or socialization, but I don't have a well-developed social life or presence and feel more comfortable on my own. I'm not wealthy, but I'm established enough that I can get by until I figure out what's next, wherever that ends up being. I know the universe doesn't owe me anything, but I'd like to think that the next chapter can be more than a joyless, purposeless slog to retirement. I've experienced radical lifestyle change (a decade ago when I realized that if life was worth living then it was worth not being morbidly obese), but there's a difference between the practical solution to a physical crisis and an existential one. Stepping out into the world, I don't know where I fit in, and I've managed to avoid so much life experience (good and bad) while sheltered in this unnatural bubble. I kind of hate every word of this, and I'm not sure what I'm hoping to accomplish. I'm going to go back to work tomorrow and spend another week trying to avoid thinking about this problem. And then another weekend is going to come when I'll be left alone with my thoughts. It's going to take me time to figure this out and accept what I need to accept, but I need to stop whining to myself and take some constructive steps, which hopefully this will be one of. So "hi", I guess. This is where I am. I appreciate anyone with criticism, constructive or otherwise. I have a hard time engaging online sometimes because I wonder what the point is and feel self-conscious even in anonymous interactions. But I recognize the gift that it is to show kindness to someone else, and I've been impressed by the examples of that that I've seen in this community.
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