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). Dogma is 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' we have a dogmatic belief that is hard to argue against, because people who believe it simply become defensive and irrational - unable to look at evidence or other ideas with a clear, calm and open mind. They even have wars to try and protect this BS or dog muck. Jeez!
USING BS TO HELP ONESELF
My friend J is brilliant and I love him. Part of his BS called Determinism. He uses this as a great point to make to lessen emotional pain and end 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."
Whilst this may or may not be true he is using the BS of determinism to wriggle out of looking at his very human emotional pain. Thankfully he knows that this is just an opinion and he doesn't hold these beliefs deeply enough to fall into dog muck, which I'm glad about. I think it's OK and healthy to hide from pain sometimes, because we need time and compassion in order to come to terms with our pain. But it helps to be aware we are doing it, otherwise we risk deluding ourselves and falling into dog muck
FATALISM vs DETERMINISM
In short, 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?
So we can see they both leave many questions unanswered and so we cannot say they are true 100%. People often worry that these philosophies trivialise and minimise life, because they take away our agency and willpower. This can be very depressing and lead us to dread our existence.. Nihilistic though - the idea that in the end there is nothing and therefore there is no purpose to life, can be a part of this. However, even this BS can be lightly held. I like Kurzgesagt's take on 'Optimistic Nihilism' as a way to
The movie, The Matrix (1999) explored this in a fun and clever way. I copied this comment...
"*contains spoilers* This whole movie is a self fulfilling prophecy: the Oracle tells Neo that he is not the One, that Morpheus is willing to give his life due to his sincere belief that Neo is the One. Neo eventually saves Morpheus because he believes he shouldn't die because of his false belief in him. Along the way he realizes with his exceptional skills that he is the One. Morpheus even says: "she told you exactly what you needed to hear". And that is the crucial scene. If the Oracle never brought forth the dilemma he would never saved Morpheus and realize he is the One."
CAN WE SHAPE THE FUTURE THROUGH SUGGESTIONS?
This scene explores this - where the Oracle (the one who supposedly 'knows' the future (but I think she just knows the likely future and says the right things to make it happen the way she wants - in other words she's very intelligent and can see the potential patterns). She says "Don't worry about the vase" and then he turns to look around and breaks a vase by accident. She then says: "What's really gonna bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I didn't say anything?" Did she 'know' or did she make an educated guess based on her knowledge of human nature? Was she helping him to shape his beliefs and therefore his actions, towards a helpful outcome?
BELIEFS MAKE THINGS COME TRUE
This is where I think the philosophy serves a useful reminder. Our brains are very clever. We create our perception of reality as we think. One's perception is often more important to oneself than the actual reality, because it informs our feelings. We can create placebo effects, overcome pain, sacrifice our very lives based on deeply help emotional beliefs. If one believe our country is great and needs me to die for it I will do that and I will be happy to give my life. 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. (see the video at the bottom)
KEEPINNG OUR HUMAN HEART OPEN
So if we don't want to fall into dog muck by holding onto loft BS to much, but we also want to soften our difficult human experience by using this incredible intellect and imagination we can take inspiration from philosophers like Both Alan Watts and Ram Dass (these are two important videos)... remember that both the philosophy that 'life fatal and determined and that is perfect' from the perspective of a higher (spiritual) point of view, but also at the same time life is mysterious, tragic, painful, challenging and emotional from the perspective of a human being living on a complex planet of competing organisms. Both of these philosophers express that if we keep a foot in both perspectives and switch between them we will help ourselves be open and accepting to life, as it is, without falling into dog muck!
And so let's stop going round and round and arrive at a helpful conclusion. It is helpful to realise what beliefs you hold and if they are actually 'true' and if you cannot know then it might be sensible to hold those opinions more lightly and not impress them upon others. At the same time it may be helpful to choose to believe certain things - to find BS that is positive whilst also being connected with the reality of being human. So I'll leave you with the question - can you choose what you believe?
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com
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