Finding Our Sanity
Buddha says that the root cause of our suffering is our wrong views (wrong opinions, ideas, concepts, etc.) that result form our ignorance. But how do we know something is right or wrong? Our brain is basically subjective that is easily influenced by all sorts of biases, prejudices, desires, fears and delusions. Our goal should be moving towards objectivity — that is seeing things as they are.
The utmost important thing towards our sanity is that we should not get attached to our views, opinions and beliefs. We should not hold them too tightly. Don’t allow your beliefs to stand in the way of truth.
We should bring clear awareness to our views, opinions and beliefs. And clearly understand how our cognition and others methods work — so we can use them properly.
Intuition and Commonsense
Just throw a stone; what if it goes up faster and faster, or comes down slower and slower, or makes some sharp zigzag path? We would be surprised; even a small kid would be surprised. The thrown-stone is supposed to go up with decreasing speed and come down with increasing speed; and depending on the throw-angle, it would make certain curvature path. Every kid learns this from the experience, without any need of deeper understanding about speed, acceleration, force, gravity, etc. Yet, if the stone followed any different characteristics, intuitively we know that something is odd.
But, if we were lived in an environment where the thrown-stone never came back, that was what our brain would have learned. Whatever the environment we live in, our brain learns its characteristics and causal effects. As we grow up, our brain learns and collects lots of such inferences which we may call them as commonsense, intuition, hunch or gut feeling.
Intuition is a pattern recognition process. We aware of its end result as an intuitive feeling without much awareness of the reasons or logic behind it.1 We have many inborn intuitions (shaped over the course of our evolution) and we also learn and collect many more intuitions as we grow up.
Commonsense: As we learn from our environment and experiences, we make and collect many inferences about the causal effects with no or limited insights. We may have bit more awareness of the reasons and logic behind commonsense inferences than our intuitions.
Though our intuition and commonsense provide very important value, they do not offer deeper understanding; and they also mislead us into many common-non-sense! That is how we think the earth is flat when it is round; that is how we think the sun goes around us when the earth rotates itself and goes around the sun. That is how we think life is designed when it is evolved over billions of years. That is how we think we have total freedom of choice.
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." — Albert Einstein
Confabulation: How we feel and act, how we make decisions, etc. are the result of many hidden mechanisms, but often we give our own stories and interpretation — and we believe them.
Illusion: Often our mind fools us. In many ways, what we see and experience is not the actual reality. Most of our experiences are illusions — that is, they are not exactly what they seem.
In any case, beyond simple commonsense, people critically thought, discussed and analyzed about many things. This school of thought is known as philosophy. It invoked and questioned many ideas such as prime mover (the first root cause of all the chain of cause and effects), Zeno's paradox (how motion is impossible), the concept of God, etc.
After a while, philosophy as a knowledge gathering process reached its limitation, and stagnated at certain level with just mere back and forth arguments without yielding any deeper insights about us and the world we live in.
Philosophy is about making explicit logical analysis and inferences. So we have some what better awareness of its reasons and logic. But this method missed an essential ingredient of external objective verification, and hence it failed to go beyond our subjectivity — and its biases and errors.
Aristotle believed women have fewer teeth than men, but he never bothered to actually check it.2 Our commonsense may suggest that heavier objects reach the ground sooner than lighter ones. Galileo first showed experimentally that all objects reach the ground at the same time. Instead of making philosophical arguments or fantasy stories about the moon and the planets, he observed through his telescope. He showed the importance of experimentation and objective verification.
Ultimately he and many others developed a method which involves observation, theory making, verification, validation, etc. This school of thought is known as science. It offers a way to go beyond our intuitive and commonsense constrains and subjectivity. It allowed us to understand life and 3.5 billion years of life evolution. It showed our universe that consists of billions of galaxies, each galaxy consists of billions of stars, and 14 billion years of cosmic evolution.
Science is an objective understanding process. Based on our brain's architecture with its capabilities and limitations, science is the best method we have developed so far to understand the complex world we live in and gain deeper insights.
Finding Our Sanity
Unfortunately many people still stuck in many old harmful ideas and beliefs. Though nature has endowed us with intelligence, somehow they think it is a virtue to not to use it. With their blind faith, they hold on to their wrong and outdated map ignoring all evidences and truths — causing so much of suffering to themselves and others.
"If the map doesn't agree with the ground the map is wrong" — Gordon Livingston
Science is not about just knowing or believing in some scientific facts. It is about understanding them systematically based on proper reasons and evidences. It takes some level of effort on our part; and our sanity and dignity depend on such effort. Only our own understanding, our own discovery of truth will set us free.
Mindfulness and Meditation ==> Inner scientific journey
Meditation is a method to introspect and understand our own mind — like a scientific process. In meditation, we cultivate mindfulness which is seeing things as they are — towards objective seeing.
Our brain is fundamentally subjective and it is a kind of belief system at its core. Finding truth… reaching for objectivity is a process. We have developed science (for external looking) and meditation (for internal looking).
First, bring clear awareness to your views, opinions, beliefs, etc.
Don’t get attached to your views, opinions and beliefs. Don’t hold them too tightly. Don’t allow your beliefs to stand in the way of truth. Don't cut the person to fit the cloth. Don’t bend the truth to fit your beliefs.
Continually adjust your views/beliefs based on further evidences and understanding (Bayesian theorem).
The key to the process is: non-attachment. But non-attachment is not a detached approach (where nothing matters -- I don't care kind of attitude). Non-attachment is a middle way, looking at things from a proper distance and perspective. We should love and care for ourselves and others. In essence, non-attachment points towards a open state of mind that leads to true awareness.
Though intuition may seem mysterious as we do not have direct awareness of its operation, such patter recognition is common in Artificial Intelligence, especially in Neural Networks.
Aristotle believed women were inferior to men. It highlights how easy for us to be biased.