Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fractals Baby

"Everything happens for a reason
-- Justin Bieber

There are three concepts which many people push into the realm of the spiritual when they are used in reference to life, the universe, or everything. Some maintain that these three concepts; reasons, purposes, and meanings, have no definition without invoking god. I have even been told that these three concepts are “the personality traits of a loving god”. Many positive benefits of spirituality have been credited to mastering these three concepts.  Some atheists have suggested that these concepts are worthless since they apparently require the manipulations of an interested god. In keeping with the central purpose of this blog, to steal whatever is worthwhile from religion and spirituality, I think it is unwise to dismiss these three concepts capriciously.

Justin Bieber uttered the quote at the start of this entry to displace cultural responsibility for rape. As a cute little 16-year-old boy Bieber may have been either the perpetrator or the victim of many rapes, and therefore he could be displacing his own pain or guilt with this statement; though I suspect not. The statement is used to avoid the responsibility for engaging in the conversation about rape that should continue until there is nothing to talk about.

Who can know god’s reasons or meaning for causing suffering without knowing the purpose of existence? If you try to wrap your brain around that you will not have to hit it with a hammer to know how rubbery it is. There are many ways to avoid personal responsibility, and vapid reliance on an unknowable plan of an invisible overlord is one of the laziest. I will not be talking about rape in this entry. My only experience with rape is that I have dearly cared for several people who were the victims of this crime; I have never personally raped or been raped. I clearly and unhesitatingly state that I have little wisdom or experience to bring to the important conversation about rape, and so I will discuss other things at this time. Anyone who has ever been or known a 16-year-old realizes that t is almost impossible for one to admit a shallow lack of wisdom and experience in anything, so I can understand the Bieb’s need to blame a god. Perhaps as the Bieb grows up and his knowledge matures he will experience the Adult Onset of Atheism. Until then we should look to find the measure of his sage wisdom in other quotes from him like:

“Mine, mine baby, baby, baby, oh like baby, baby, baby, no like baby, baby, baby, oh” Justin Bieber from his song “Baby”

The real gem worth saving in these three concepts is seen shining in what religions do so well: psychological manipulation. This essence is captured well in the following quote from the theist psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum’s book titled “Everything Happens for a Reason”:

“I want to reassure you: When you discover the true meaning of the events in your life, everything changes.
You feel stronger because your sense that everything has meaning gives you great confidence.
You feel wiser because you see how everything connects.
You're more in touch with who you are because you know that you're living the life you were meant to lead.
And you're happier because you're able to put your loss behind you and have a sense of a future filled with good things.
Until you get to this place, nothing is going to feel right.”
-- Everything Happens for a Reason: Finding the True Meaning of the Events in Our Lives By Mira Kirshenbaum

Proper use of these three concepts purportedly leads to: assurance, strength, wisdom, self-knowledge, and the big one –happiness-. These goals are quite worthwhile, but how do we extricate god from the path to using these three concepts in achieving them? Will removing god make the attainment of these five goals easier and more complete? I think so.

If the human mind were able to float free of its frame of reference many maladies of the psyche would not exist. We know that in physics all measurements are tied to the frame of reference in which they are made; psychologically all reality is tied to the perspective in which it is formed. In physics the special theory of relativity gives insight into ways in which measurements from different frames of reference relate. Psychologically we have the ability to change our perspective and affect the way we relate to everything we have ever observed.

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together." — Marilyn Monroe

Time teaches everyone that the impact of events is not eroded by insisting that the event has no impact. Channeling the impact of the event allows the event to be assimilated in a potentially constructive way. Seeing life-altering events as lessons and opportunities allows one to live with an event rather that live on in spite of an event.

I am discussing these things in general terms. There is a popular and annoying over-generalization that is often encountered here. The idea that one can shape the reaction to an event suggests that attitude governs the impact an event has. If we go further down this rabbit hole it appears as if attitude is a choice and so the outcome of an event is happiness if we choose it to be. This leads to conclusions that generate irritatingly ignorant statements of the form: “you experienced a (insert horrible life changing tragedy) and you will see that it is the best thing that ever happened to you”.

The truth is that I have most often heard variations of this fantasy sentiment uttered by Santa-bellied white men in grease-collared suits who append it with: “if you find jesus in your heart”. I prefer to picture the speaker as a woman whose smile and clear eyes each vie with the noonday sun for title of brightest object in the galaxy; the same sun mocks her attempt at modesty with each breath of her filmy cotton garment. I’m sure she thinks more of the Bieb’s 18th birthday than my 50th. Darn you to Heck Justin Bieber!

"The real lover is the man who can thrill you by kissing your forehead or smiling into your eyes or just staring into space." — Marilyn Monroe

The reason why the three concepts are so useful is that they imply looking outside of one’s own malleable perspective for clues in redirecting response to life events. The reason this leads to a god requirement in many people’s minds is that any imposed order on an outside world requires an imposer. The reason many atheists that I know discount the three concepts is that the forces that impose order on the universe do so in such a general way that such order is way too ephemeral for most practical psychological uses.

The thing about order is that we really don’t pay too much attention to it. If you believe that there is a god which imposes order you don’t have a clue as to what most of god’s plan is. However you look at it the best you can say is that there are similar patterns you have come to rely on. As humans we are very good at seeing patterns even when they are hardly there at all. The more philosophical see arrangements of self similar patterns existing at many levels of scale. The arrangement of self-similar patterns across multiple levels of scale is called a fractal. Most people call the arraignment of those patterns “normal”.

The searcher can find self-similar pattern everywhere. It is in self-similarity that the universe seems to store most of its complexity. Fractal patterns are beautiful whether they are seen, heard, or inhaled. Fractal patterns do not require the detailed manipulations of any god; they can be constructed using simple mathematics. You know fractals, and when you uncover a new scale in one there is a feeling of true joy.

For any particular pattern we have a field of view which fits into a larger “pattern of patterns” whose arrangement is similar to the patterns within our field of view. This description of the examination of a fractal landscape has three components: what one can see in the immediate region, what one can see looking as far as one can see, and a pattern that entire field of view fits into. I believe we can map the three concepts onto this fractal philosophical space. Reasons exist within a purpose that fits into a greater meaning. The concepts are a description of self-similarity across three levels of relative scale. 

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