The study of philosophy enhances a person's problem-solving capacities. It helps us to analyse concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to our capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from large quantities of information.
The problem with philosophy is that it can go on and on and people can begin to believe the ideas they entertain. This is what many call BELIEF SYSTEMS. I shorten this to BS.
DOGMA = DOGMUCK
When we deeply hold that our BS is true, and then whine on about it tediously and fall into what I call 'dog muck' (AKA Dogma - defined as a set of principled that one considers inarguably true).
For example when a religion believes that it is the 'one true way to divinity' this is a dogmatic belief. People even have wars to try and protect this BS, not realising it is dog muck. Jeez!
FATALISM vs DETERMINISM
There are two philosophies of the world I think are important to consider. Fatalism and Determinism. Fatalism is the theory of 'fate' as in 'fatal' - a focus on the end. The idea that there is some destiny that we cannot avoid, although we are able to take different paths up to this destiny. Death is an obvious example. We know death is our fate, but not how (or why). Although we don't really know if death is the end. Perhaps it's just a point on a journey... hmmm...
Determinism, however, is the theory that the entire path of our life is decided or 'pre-determined' by earlier events and actions. Karma is another word for this. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and we are currently living the result of trillions of prior actions stemming back to... well, um... we don't know. A big bang? But where did that come from?
USING BS TO HELP ONESELF
My friend J uses Determinism to help lessen emotional pain and to end tricky discussions. We might be looking at a deep emotional issue and then he might say "Yes, but we have no free will anyway, it's all pre-determined, so fuck it." We usually laugh it off and get on with life.
Is he using the BS of determinism to wriggle out of looking at his very human emotional pain? Yes and no.... Thankfully he knows that this is just an opinion and he doesn't hold these beliefs as dog muck. It's also very healthy to hide from our own pain sometimes, because we need time and compassion in order to come to terms with our pain. It also helps to be aware we are doing it, otherwise we risk deluding ourselves and falling into dog muck.
BEYOND OUR TANTALISING IDEAS IS THE BODY AND LIFE
With time we can remember that beyond our thinking our bodies need things in order to grow. Thinking round and round often distracts us from this. Thoughts are incredibly alluring and we can get drawn into thinking at the expense of our deeper and more real needs. I personally believe that the BS of 'spirituality' is actually a disguise for a deep need for connection. Us humans, being social animals, often feel lonely and spirituality is the BS that often gives us an excuse to connect to something greater than ourselves - a community and perhaps even a 'god'. This is very comforting for a human being and comfort is also a need. I think if we pondered the underlying needs more often we would see that a lot of our BS is pointing to unmet needs and then we would focus on those instead of fuelling the BS and creating dog muck.
We see throughout history examples of people fuelling BS, creating dog muck and then having wars or ruining lives because of it. Most of this has been religious wars. in the 21st Century we worship money and power and don't have much BS in a god. This creates the dog muck of Nihilism - a belief that there is nothing else to life and in the end it will be nothing. This can take away our hope and even our agency and willpower., leading us to 'existential dread''. However, even this BS can be lightly held and seen as pointing to a need for... meaning. We human beings seek and need meaning in our lives. We often seek it in the wrong places and get lulled in by dog muck and then indoctrinated into a very unhelpful BS. . Kurzgesagt's take on 'Optimistic Nihilism' is a way to hold this more lightly and to then consider... what do I need now?
LEARNINGS FROM THE MATRIX: SELF FULLILLING PROPHECIES
In this dystopian movie a critical scene examines these philosophies in action. It shows how our BS can create a self fulfilling prophecy. In the movie 'The Oracle' tells Neo "You are NOT the One". This is challenging for Neo, because he sees Morpheus believes, dogmatically, that he is, to the point that he is willing to sacrifice himself and everyone else to protect Neo.
This situation forces Neo to decide what is important and to do his best to protect Morpheus and everyone else, to live up to the expectation and to consider what was needed.
Later, after Neo saves the world, Morpheus reveals he knew The Oracle would have said that Neo was NOT the One in order to create this situation.; "She told you exactly what you needed to hear".
The events unfolded because Neo was forced to examine what was needed, instead of just believing something.
This little scene with the vase encapsulates that so beautifully:
BELEIFS ARE POWERFUL
Beliefs help us to cooperate in enormous numbers. I highly recommend the talk and book by Yuval Noah Harari. He realised that humans living in a dual reality to help them to flexibly collaborate on a mass scale with strangers through the willingness to embrace fictional stories that create 'networks of cooperation'. Even money is a network of beliefs. We all agree to believe that a coin represents value, even though it is just a story. The belief in the story makes it truth, at least to humans.
REPETITION OF THOUGHT: CONFIRMATION BIAS
We believe things more strongly when we hear them repeated and then we look for evidence to support our beliefs, which adds more repletion. It's sometimes called an echo-chamber effect. This is important to remember. Soldiers will even give their lives to uphold the belief in the ideals of a country (after lengthy indoctrination in soldier training, through repetition). In the USA Donald Trump used repetition really well to drive him simple messages to combat complex and nuanced thinking. Slogans like 'Make America Great Again' ring through the ears and brains of his supporters and now they are so strong in their beliefs that they believe everything he says. I would say this is also happening all over the world, as the internet becomes a powerful tool for spreading ideas much like 'mind-viruses', repeating them for people, which quickly become BS and dog Muck! Supporters of a belief are drawn towards internet forums, news articles and websites that all confirm the beliefs and repeat them more, growing the belief in their minds. This feels strangely comforting, as humans cling to certainty and try to eliminate nuance, complexity and uncertainty.
THE BRAIN AND BODY GET CONFUSED
The result of all this information and misinformation is mass confusion and fear. We then CLING to safe sounding ideas, which often leads us down dark paths of polarisation and war. This confusion can also lead to placebo effects (where we believe a medicine will work and so that enhances its effects) or Nocebo effects (where we inhibit the power of a medicine because we think it won't work). All of this is why we have to be very careful in the following:
KEEPINNG OUR HUMAN HEART OPEN
If we don't want to fall into dog muck we can find inspiration from mindfulness philosophers like Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts and Ram Dass (these are two important videos).. It is never as simple as this or that. It is complex and we must embrace the complexity whilst also remembering the simple truths of the human body, which has needs. and the human mind which must be questioned and treated with care. It is a powerful imagination. Remembering this can we focus on positive beliefs that invite us to take care of our bodies and of each other? To hold our opinions more lightly and not impress them upon others. To be careful about our sources of information and be aware of the power of repletion. To keep switching off the noise of the world, from time to time, so we don't get drawn down the dark paths of mind viruses and instead remember what is important - connection, care. compassion, complexity. What ideas inspire these values and needs to become important again?
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com