Beliefs and Superstition

Belief is a powerful urge that we all have; we have to believe in something because that is how our minds are wired. We all have different beliefs ranging from ghosts to gods and it does not matter how ridiculous or lofty these beliefs are, for at the end of the day they are just beliefs with no concrete proof. Indeed beliefs are an unacknowledged admission of ignorance, for where knowledge ends beliefs begin and since no one could possibly have absolute knowledge therefore we all have certain beliefs. For some people beliefs are a safety raft to hold on to in the turbulent waters of our uncertain lives, which appear to consume our identities. No amount of glaringly obvious proof of their invalidity could make them relinquish their beliefs. For others their beliefs are being continuously tested against reality, in the hope of finding a more plausible alternative belief; this is the way scientific knowledge advances, where conquering the unknown is more important than sticking to an outmoded or obsolete belief.

Religious beliefs have an element of taboo associated with their tenets that makes it difficult even for the library minded to escape their grip. Punishment is a powerful deterrent for some people, who simply learn to keep their intellectual ideas and religious faith in separate compartments, for the fear is not so much of an imagined god but rather of the stigma imposed by the social structure to which they belong. The pressure they experience to adhere to the prevalent majority far outweighs the desire to break loose and risk becoming alienated or outcast. The few who dare to challenge the accepted beliefs will suffer but in the process their suffering may eventually begin to produce cracks in the established dogmatic beliefs. Indeed there are a lot of clergy men who are beginning to acknowledge that evolution has been instrumental in our being here and push the role of god to a higher level beyond the realm of the physical world. Most scientists will go even beyond and dispense with the idea of god at any stage before or after the big-bang. Obviously there is no proof either way, as for scientists they are entitled to hold on to their beliefs too just as everyone else does including children with their belief in Father Christmas.

There is one particular area in which both scientists and down to earth ordinary people can agree and that is the subject of extra-terrestrials, though the exact details of such encounters are very different. For some people aliens are already here, they visit us regularly and in some cases they abduct some people inside their sophisticated hovering space-ships. Obviously on this kind of level I would regard these beliefs as fantasies or perhaps wishful thinking, for I don’t believe that advanced civilised aliens have come all the way to earth to grab a handful of individuals, without making their presence more felt to the whole world. After all if they have come in peace then there is nothing to fear from an official encounter. There is another group of people who attribute some of the great feats of our ancient ancestors to alien intervention as in the case of who built the pyramids. Again I find it uncalled for as the level of intelligence of our ancestors was by no means less than our present level. A few thousand years is not an archaic time compared with the millions of years that separate us from the apes. It is nothing more than failure of imagination on our part, for even cave-men enjoyed a full conceptual and abstract type of brain. The long term evolution of our technology is blinding us to our intrinsic brain qualities with which we have been endowed since the dawn of our history. We would not have risen to the top of the food chain if it wasn’t for our brain power.

The future is not something we know anything about yet, which opens the doors to so much speculation and inevitable schools of beliefs. Our ability to predict the future seems to depend on our outlook on life, for those who are essentially pessimistic, the future is coloured by so many dark thoughts, whereas for the optimistic ones there is always hope for a better future. What the future actually brings is a mix of both the unfortunate and fortunate events to which both the pessimist and optimist get their alibi to support their own beliefs. Scientists in particular are more able to delve into the far reaching events that could impact our lives in the far flung future. Unfortunately there appears to be a failure of imagination on their part with regards to our own position, particularly in relation to our own technological and social capabilities. For example it was announced recently that in a billion years from now there will be no vegetation on the planet owing to the disappearance of carbon-dioxide and since that is the lowest level in the food chain, enabling the chlorophyll process, therefore all life on earth will be doomed. Firstly, a billion years from now is an awful long time to predict our own status in the universe, though it may be a relatively short time for a crude simulation programme based on some simple facts known about the fate of our sun. I can’t realistically imagine what we will be like in a thousand years let alone a million or even a billion years from now. This is the kind of pessimistic mind-set that seeks to frighten and shock the average man in the street about the impending doom without letting them know the simple criteria on which the prediction has been made.

I for one prefer to adopt the optimist mind-set and put my faith into our evolving nature. The things that we will be able to achieve in time could seem like miracles by our present standards and surely that will impact on the outcome of everything else that the chaotic universe throws at us, for we are the products of the life-force, a formidable power in the scheme of the evolution of the universe. I won’t bet on it for I know it is only my belief. If there was a kind of a god that is looking after us then surely he is not anything like us, for a start we can’t reason with him no matter how hard we pray. He has got a mind of his own that is shrouded in the mystical explosion of our universe out of nothing. However, why can’t we come down to earth instead and perceive of a different kind of god that is closer to our hearts; a god that takes root from our collective enterprise and guides us towards a better future for our descendants and the whole of man-kind. Such god does not punish us for our sins or rewards us for our good deeds but rather enables us to have our own torch of knowledge, which enables us to distinguish between right and wrong in a more humane absolute manner. If anyone punishes us or rewards us it is the social structure to which we subscribe, which is an arbitrary set of rules that we believe will coerce us into becoming better social beings.

We are all prawn to a lot of superstitions that we never seem to overgrow. This is the kind of harmless superstition that tells us something about the different layers of our makeup. There is always a child in each and every one of us, complete with all its superstitions. We give in to the child when we are not threatened and relive the old memories of the care free childhood and with it all the apprehensions and worries about being caught or punished when clearly such threats are not relevant anymore. I find myself sometimes having to complete a certain task in a certain way for fear of some mystical undesirable consequence. There is always a certain degree of compulsion that some people resist indulging in but like any real child, the desire becomes greater and the only way to get over it is to give in to it. A famous example is when one is bragging about one’s achievements and then suddenly realises that the only way to avoid invoking jealousy in others is to ‘touch wood’. This is indeed a harmless kind of superstition, which we are often reluctant to admit to others, as we can push it aside in order to hide our infantile fantasies.  Too much repression of these superstitions can turn them into a more compulsive if not sinister character with disastrous consequences for the integrity of personality, resulting in a schizoid or schizophrenic personality.

We can all enjoy a fantasy kind of a story, knowing well that the characters are unreal but then we are able to see that it is only a metaphor for some real aspects of our lives. Being able to make such inferences to the real world is what makes us enjoy the superstitious aspects depicted in a fantasy, such as in the case of operas, ballets and films. It is more interesting to associate ourselves with kings, queens, gods, demons and fairies rather than our mediocre average selves. Of course I would like to think of myself as superman, which would enable me to aspire to this type of benevolent power. The dividing line between sanity and insanity is somewhat blurred for some people, who adopt their fantasy character literarily and end up acting out their fantasy character in real life, causing a nuisance to others or inflicting criminal atrocities on unsuspecting innocent people, like the person who went on a rampage after watching ‘the dark knight rises’ film. This is utterly pathetic for serial killers and the like, who are acting on their superstitious beliefs with no regard to their consequences. It would be advantageous if individuals with such predispositions could be detected early in life for those who succumb to their sinister fantasies or misconceptions.

If we can’t escape having beliefs and superstitions in our lives then why don’t we use them to our advantage, Beliefs are like driving forces that propel us through time to enable us to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. Many people are happy to vindicate their beliefs by being willingly prepared to die for such beliefs. In principle that is the epitome of their devotion providing they are not being brain-washed into adopting a stupid horrific deed, such as suicide bombers. Most of our beliefs are handed down to us through the social structure in which we are being brought up and in most cases that is the culprit.  The social structure as a whole is responsible for our beliefs and short of a social upheaval to remedy the misconceptions we may find ourselves heading for a sudden collapse of the social fabric into anarchy. Why can’t we recognise the futility of adhering to outmoded beliefs and instead adopt the kind of positive beliefs that promote the real purpose of our existence. It is not simply by adopting a naive soppy ‘love they neighbour’ kind of belief but more a kind of an integrative cohesion against the real problems that face us. These are not just honey coated words but rather the entwined, vigilant and liberal minds of the whole community, making use of their beliefs as stepping stones to higher platforms of universal beliefs. Unfortunately I can’t express it in better words, for it is something that can only be felt in the heart or perhaps through music.      



Type your paragraph here.

Bill Monroe

They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but if you ask me, the grass is pretty green

over here. It looks similar over there, but I like right where I am. It’s beautiful. Peaceful.  

Isn’t this nice? Being surrounded by verdant trees, silken grass, hearing your own heart beat. You can look out as far as the eye can see with nothing but nature’s undisturbed beauty. 

- Wisdom of Confucius

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

Science in Action

 If there is any one thing that sets us apart from all of our cousins in the animal kingdom, it will have to be our abstract mind. This is our vehicle into science that has pushed our species towards a galactic future.  Yet science is no different to any natural process that evolved by trial and error. Our affair with science started a long time ago but it has recently shot up to a remarkable degree. There are so many factors that have contributed to our success in science, including our enlarged brain size, even though we may not necessarily possess the largest brain size, compared to elephants or whales, which appear to have better memories, though somehow size does not matter but our internal neuron’s connectivity does matter. Among some of the other factors is our physical posture, which has enabled us to stand upright, face each other, communicate better through speech and have dexterous free hands with which we can manipulate the world around us. We are by nature a highly gregarious species, though we are not driven solely by the herd instinct like most grazing animals but we are also hunters, gatherers able to work in small groups, right down to one individual sometimes. We are curious about the world about us to an astonishing degree; from the dawn of history we have been obsessed with the night sky and the gods that control the celestial motions, right up to the one omnipotent god to worship exemplified by the main religious systems practiced in various parts of the world today. However the scientific spirit knows no limitations as it tries to uncover who or what lies beyond our visible world, casting a great deal of doubt on dogmatic beliefs perpetuated by most religions. We are still nowhere near finding where god could be found but one thing is for sure that he is in our hearts but there seems to be a great deal of doubt about the creation of everything we see around us including us. The reason being that evolution is now on firmly solid grounds, especially after we discovered the DNA that connects us to the tree of life on earth through evolution. As for the cosmos itself, it is now strongly believed that it all began some 13.7 billion years ago and has been following a plausible path culminating with our arrival on the scene; that makes us pawns for the evolution of life in the universe as opposed to saints or sinners and through us the universe is advancing its ultimate purpose in life.

Take the case of Lucy, she is a lady, though not quite so, she lived some 3 million years ago and suffered a terrible death as she got crushed deep underground until we managed to unearth what is left of her. Her bones which were all in one spot tell us a great deal about her. Through carbon dating we know her age; surprisingly she bears a great deal of resemblance to us; she is bipedal, shorter than us and had a slightly smaller brain. In short she is a good candidate for the missing link between us and the apes, though not the apes of today but rather a common ancestor from which we and the apes diverged a long time ago. The apes of today have evolved to become dexterous tree dwellers whereas our branch including Lucy moved into the open savannah and slowly became excellent hunters, gatherers. Lucy’s death was not in vein had it not been for our scientific archaeological findings. Lucy is only one of so many other examples of such extinct missing links that litter the archaeological records, giving us a solid proof into the mechanisms of evolution, as the jigsaw puzzle of the creation is being slowly revealed to us.

Take the case of the fruit fly, I am not going to prove that we descended from a fly as such, though this would take an incredible leap of imagination, instead let us consider what scientists have witnessed in their laboratories. A typical fruit fly lives only for a few days; such a short life is packed with so many activities, including random mutations perpetuated by specially controlled environmental conditions, subjected to random shocks, which can induce random mutations into the DNA of the flies, successful mutations will result in permanent adaptations, favoured by a natural selection criteria and passed on to the next generation. This is indeed evolution on steroids, for we can witness changes taking place over a large number of generations in a matter of few weeks or months. Evolution is not a myth or a kind of vague intuition. Evolution is the tool for creating life that takes away the hyped image of god as a creator, for why would a conscious creator bother to create millions of life forms, some of which are so closely related as Darwin has painstakingly noticed while he was at the Galapagos islands cataloguing the minute differences of the beaks of some finches living on scattered adjacent islands and upon returning back to England, he made the bold assumption that we too must have evolved from monkeys, for which he was ridiculed and disgraced but finally vindicated through the discoveries of the DNA and the role of the genes in building our bodies and everything alive, including plants and algae. We are one big happy family and with the help of our science we have managed to work out the map of evolution and in the process climb up to the top of the food chain.

Scientists don’t always go out of their way to explain their findings. Science appeals mainly to those who have the curiosity to find out about the physical and natural world, while keeping an open mind to the results arrived at through unbiased methods of testing and observation. However we all start life as vulnerable children, hopelessly dependant on our parents and during this time we have to rely on some kind of a belief that we are being taken care of by the greater powers of those around us, right up to an overseeing god that takes good care of us and to whom we attribute our uniquely privileged position in the overall scheme of creation. It is very difficult to shake this picture as it is based on trust and loyalty to all those who took care of us. For most people who acknowledge the scientific method, they prefer to keep their feelings separate from their intellectualisation but may eventually find it hard to refute the scientific conclusions, which are invariably based on pure logic as opposed to their beliefs which are held by sheer trust only.

There is no need to give up religious beliefs in order to become a scientist as all we need to do is to make slight modifications to our beliefs. We have to accept that everything in nature is subject to evolution, so why can’t we accept the same for our religious beliefs? There is certainly nothing wrong with the basic tenets upon which religious ideas are based, such as ‘love they neighbour’ and all the obvious good qualities that can make us better human beings but we must realise that god is merely a grand concept that we uphold and cherish as it units us with love to one another. Evolution takes care of the creation though ultimately what drives the wheels of evolution is deeply connected with the forces of the universe at large that erupted out of the big bang, a kind of spontaneous phenomena that lies beyond the scope of our present sphere of knowledge. By all means we can place god outside our own universe bubble in order to be able to adjust the parameters of our universe for the emergence of life but then that is a very remote kind of god compared to the concept of god being in our own hearts, which is a god in the making, propagating itself through us to an eternal destiny. God is not someone we have to appease by any unnecessary sacrifices, for ultimately the universe is driven by some chaotic forces that are oblivious of us. Natural disasters will always happen just as we are blessed by certain good fortunes. At the end of the day we have to take care of ourselves and try to oppose our natural tendency to give in to the evil prejudices that can lead to war. God does not punish us or reward us but the system we create administers our affairs in order to promote a homogeneous social fabric. The success or failure of such a self-governing body depends on the degree of cooperation of everybody, including those at the top of the hierarchy who have the power to make or break the system. This is where science should be employed into the picture in order to remove the dogmatic beliefs of the rulers and replace them with logical, democratic and unbiased strategies to create a fairer system for the welfare of everybody.

You may think that the past is over and gone but not so when it comes to the universe for we live in our own space and time bubble, which has been expanding for a very long time, creating stars and galaxies. Stars tend to attract a lot of dust and debris from other dead stars, which is eventually accreted as a disc around the star and owing to density fluctuations, gravitational forces gradually coalesces the disc into a planet. Our moon was produced as a result of two planets colliding, forcing a small chunk of the outer layers to be ejected and then captured into an orbit around the amalgamated planet earth, which suffered a tilt of its axis that gives us the seasons, while the moon gives us the tides. Such a mindless collision gave us such a wonderful advantage. When we look out at the universe we do not see it as it is now but rather as it was at various points in the past depending on how far it is from us. Everywhere we look there is something happening somewhere at a different phase of evolution to us, which means we can peer into the past and the future by observing different star systems. This is reminiscent to observing people of different ages to see in action aspects of our own birth, growth and death. There are some parts of the universe that are so far away from us that we can see them as they were some 13 billion years ago, owing to the rapid expansion of the universe, which slows down the arrival of their light to us. We are unable to get to see the moment of creation itself as the universe was dark before the first stars lit the universe. However with the help of mathematics we can shine a light on those early moments of the big bang by pushing the equations back in time. Although everything we see today came out of a single infinitesimal point of space and time, the colossal amount of matter that we see today was nothing more than searing energy.  When the temperature dropped down sufficiently, it allowed matter to coalesce from pure energy in the form of minute sub-atomic particles (electrons and quarks mainly), which would have been virtually mass-less particles had it not been for the Higgs field (dubbed as the god particle) that slowed down those particles (which would have been moving at the speed of light similar to the photons) Unable to reach the speed of light they effectively acquire some form of inertia, which is responsible for their mass property, without mass there would be no stars or planets let alone people.

The above description of the creation of our world is highly sketchy but it has taken some of the best minds of our time to put it together on solid grounds. It is indeed a testament to the power of science to explain what lies beyond visual inspection or testing by pure thought processes formulated in precise mathematical equations. There are still a few unknowns owing to the fact the very laws of the universe must necessarily breakdown when we reach the singularity (the point at which we reach zero). We encounter the same problem when we get to the heart of a black-hole and the laws that govern everything in the universe cease to exist. Such ignorance may or may not be conquered in time, depending on whom or what is limiting our knowledge. I wouldn’t like to rush to conclusions by invoking the hand of god beyond the singularities that challenge our understanding at the moment. If such a hypothetical god did not wish us to know more about what lies beyond our universe then why did he allow us to get that far? Why give us abstract minds at all that can dabble in science, instead of making us oblivious as animals are? What lies outside our universe is completely different in nature to what lies inside our world; that much we know for sure. What we need is a break-through, perhaps something similar to what lies beneath our feet, a quantum world of ghostly existence, where even the laws of cause and effect break down, giving us a fairy tale kind of existence in multiple locations at once; yet we appear to have power over it, as we can force it to de-cohere or collapse under our conscious thoughts, as it impinges upon our own world’s reality. The universe in its infancy was incredibly small and therefore should be described by the same laws that govern the sub-atomic particles, namely; quantum mechanics. Somehow we should find a way of merging quantum mechanics with the laws of the theory of relativity, which describes large scale gravitational forces. There are already some tantalising theories that are on the trail of such quest.

I somehow believe that our own reality is the only meaningful reality that can allow life to exist and flourish. Outside our universe there is no space, no time and no matter; this is the real definition of a bleak nothing, yet out of nothing came everything, including us, living on borrowed time, before returning back to the same nothing but in the mean time we have managed to create something beautiful, perhaps our own set of laws and parameters could surpass the realms of nothing and materialise into other new budding worlds, as laws are immortal by their very definition and that would be the essence of god permeating through us, a far cry from the omnipotent creator performing miracles to impress us in order to coerce us into submission through blind obsessive worship. It is up to us to develop the science of how to be kind, loving and benevolent to one another and learn about the pitfalls of greed, hatred and evil, in order to create the perfect scientific religion. This is what an advanced extra-terrestrial civilisation may have already achieved, if we ever come across one. Our religions were never meant to open up our eyes to the real power of science, partly because they are archaic in conception and should have been allowed to evolve along with our scientific knowledge.

One of the most endemic problems that face most people today is failure of imagination, though we may be good at imagining all kinds of weird and wonderful science fiction scenarios but when it comes to how we project our own image into the future, we feel that we are at the mercy of the more easily projectable forces of nature, implying that we don’t stand a chance as the fear of extinction looms over the horizon.  As a species we are certainly evolving even though we may end up becoming a two tier society of the optimists versus the pessimists. The future that is gleaned from the natural forces of the universe is much easier to extrapolate than our own future gleaned from our own potential. Our real future is more steeped into our scientific achievements rather than into short-sighted mythical beliefs. Science has already transformed our lives, though not so much by what sort of gadgets we own but through the elevated new horizons achieved.  For some people the universe is a potentially dangerous place, full of so many unexpected nasty surprises, against which we are clueless if not helpless. The truth of the matter is that the arena in which we are fighting our own demons does not take sides and therefore our chances of scoring are as high as our expectation to succeed and that is not just an optimistic slogan but a real scientific statistical outcome. The problems we have to confront are more logical than mythical, therefore armed with the right tools we should have nothing to fear.