Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who Knows What is Good or Bad?

Last night I watched James Cameron’s Titanic. One of the twists of the film’s story is that Jack, the protagonist, was not supposed to be on that ship. Just before the Titanic sailed he won two tickets in a poker game with two Swedes. When one of the Swedes realized that the other had bet and lost their tickets to America, he punched his friend out. This appeared to be a disaster for the Swedes, and a triumph for Jack and his Italian friend.

After boarding, Jack and his friend ran down the corridor of the great ship’s third-class compartment, and Jack shouted, “We’re the luckiest sons-of-bitches in the world!”

This makes me think of a Chinese parable: One day a farmer’s only horse disappeared. When his neighbor came to console him the farmer said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the farmer’s horse returned accompanied by a wild horse, and the neighbor came to congratulate him on his good fortune. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer. The next day the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to ride the new horse, and the neighbor came to console him again. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer. When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the farmer asked, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

In the movie, Jack and his friend ended up dying, and the Swedes were now the luckiest sons-of-bitches in the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Portal of Awareness

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the “umwelt,” the individual view of the world created by a creature’s unique physiological ability to perceive its environment. For example, the internal model of reality of a blind bat is built through sonar, which creates a very different umwelt than that of a keen-eyed hawk that can spot a mouse from hundreds of feet in the air.

As another example, my husband Arthur is always smelling things that I can’t smell, and he’s often astonished at my inability to detect odors that he finds strong. But those smells just do not exist in my umwelt.

I thought of umwelt again because Arthur is working on an archival project, transferring tapes of singer-songwriters he recorded in the 1970s into an audio-editing software and burning CDs. One musician’s songs are marred by a hideous tape squeal—to my ears. Arthur couldn’t hear it and none of our friends could hear it either. But to me it was so loud it made the CD unlistenable. Arthur and I opened that musician’s computer file and I manipulated the EQ setting, creating a narrow band of lowered volume that I slid up and down the frequency scale until I’d removed the squeal (at about 8300 Hz). Then I played a song, toggling the EQ on and off as Arthur tried to hear the squeal. What was loud and obvious to me was completely nonexistent to him. This sound did not exist in Arthur’s umwelt.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don't Want To. Must.

Filmmaker Fritz Lang is best known today for his masterpiece Metropolis. He made other great films, one of which is entitled M.

M is a powerful film about compulsion and free will. Spoiler alert: A serial killer is murdering children, and the police are struggling to find the perpetrator. In their desperate hunt, the police harass the city’s criminals in their hangouts and generally interfere with their business. The criminals realize that to get the police off their back they need to find the murderer themselves.

Peter Lorre plays the murderer, and he brilliantly portrays the emotions generated by his compulsion: lustful attraction, agonized repulsion, and the irresistible pull towards action.

The criminals catch Lorre and put him on trial. Lorre tries to explain that he couldn’t help himself: he was compelled to commit the murders and regretted them later. At one point he cries in anguish, “Don’t want to. Must! Don’t want to. Must!” One of the criminals is assigned to play Lorre’s defense counsel, and he offers an inspired argument: if Lorre was truly incapable of acting otherwise, he couldn’t be found guilty.

I’ve given away the outlines of the plot, but this film is well worth watching both on its general merits, and also as a powerful statement about free will, the uncontrollable nature of compulsion, and what that means about punishment.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is There Such a Thing as Race?

Think about race. What comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think of White (Caucasian), Black (Negroid), and Asian (Mongoloid). Maybe with a little reflection you add Native American. (The terms in parentheses are the scientific names for these races.)

These categories basically conform to the racial categories I grew up with, which we crudely called white, black, yellow, and red.

Now ask yourself: What is the meaning of race? Does it mean there are significant differences between groups based on variations in physical characteristics? Does it mean differences in abilities as well?

Do you think one race is superior to others in athleticism? Do you point to the number of black football and basketball players, or the winners of the 100-yard dash at the Olympics?

Do you think that one race is superior in intelligence? Do you point to the results of IQ tests that show Caucasians and Asians with higher average IQs than those of Negroid extraction?

Let’s think of regions of the world. What race are Mexicans—are they white? What race are Egyptians—are they black? What race are Indians—are they Asian? What race are Australian aborigines? Think about Europe. Are the blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Norwegians the same race as the dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned Spaniards? How do you draw the lines that separate races? What is the basis for the categories?

Now let’s think of specific people. What race is the current president of the United States? Barack Obama is commonly called the “first black president.” But he is equally Negroid and Caucasian. He is just as much “white” as he is “black.” To label him as a member of just the one and not the other is absurd.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Umwelt

Yesterday I was out in the yard with my cat, and watched her lift her nose to the wind. She was reading the scents of our neighborhood in a way I am completely incapable of. Often times I have seen her sniff at a bush and wished she could tell me the story of who passed by in the night. I sniff the bush and I don’t smell anything.

I see my neighbor’s dog prick up his ears: he hears something that is totally beyond my hearing. What does he know that I don’t know?

There is a world of sense experience all around me that these animals smell and hear but I am completely unaware of. What else might be right here under my nose that I can’t sense? I think I perceive all of reality as it is, but my cat and the dog show me I don’t.

A century ago a German biologist noticed this disparity in sense perception and came up with a term for an organism’s personal reality: the umwelt.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Belief in Race is an example of Delusional Thinking

The book version of We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity begins with an example of a common delusion in our culture: the belief that humans can be divided into different races. I assert that there is only one race, the human race, and that racial divisions exist only in our minds.

This statement has caused some comment among readers of the book. They are convinced that racial categories are based in reality, which just reinforces the point of the book: “insanity” is defined as confusing our mind-generated reality with actual reality.

Every culture creates a “consensus reality,” a collective version of reality that its members take for granted. This collective reality is made up of subjective beliefs and assumptions, many of which have no basis in fact, but it’s very hard to see that when you’re a member of the society because to you it’s just “reality.”

When we travel we perceive that other cultures have their own realities, and we call the experience “culture shock.” We look back in history and call an earlier society’s collective reality a myth.

But it’s very hard to question the assumptions of our own culture. As historian Nell Painter, wrote in her 2011 book The History of White People: “What we can see depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for.”

What basis do I have for questioning our cultural assumption that races exist?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Delusional Thinking in Action

This week presented an excellent example of delusional thinking in action: the U.S. Presidential election. Many Republican strategists and conservative pundits predicted not only a Romney victory, but a landslide. This delusional reality was so strong that it led to such embarrassments as Karl Rove’s live meltdown on election night (watch John Stewart’s treatment).

This is an excellent example of how a culture can create its own reality, and the members of that culture will believe in a truth even when the evidence is against it.

In the days leading up to the election the right-wing true believers accused the polling companies of bias because the numbers didn’t fit their beliefs. (Even though this didn’t make any sense: if the pollsters were biased towards Obama, predicting a Democratic victory would mean liberals would be less motivated to go to the polls. I believe one of the reasons turnout was so high is because liberals believed Obama might lose. But this is typical of delusional thinking: it’s not rational.) The conservative media spent those days discussing the liberal machinations of the mainstream media and how the liberals were conspiring to create misleading polls, instead of facing the true situation of their presidential candidate.

But it turned out that the people who statistically analyzed those polls using facts and not wishful thinking, eminently including Nate Silver at the New York Times, were extremely accurate.

Virtual Reality

This is the first chapter of the manuscript version of We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity, by Kathleen Brugger.

Thomas Jefferson is revered in the United States, in part for his inspiring language in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Noble words, but ones which reveal an astonishing cognitive dissonance in the mind of the man who wrote them. Thomas Jefferson is infamous for being a slave owner. Clearly he could believe in the ideal of liberty and equality for “all men,” yet simultaneously believe that some men could be enslaved and treated unequally because of their skin color.

Today we congratulate ourselves that we’re beyond this kind of confused thinking on race, but most of us still believe in the concept of race itself. We think there really are “Caucasian” and “Asian” and “Black” humans. But, according to the majority of anthropologists, the concept of race exists entirely in our minds; there is only one race, the human race.

Yet this mind-generated reality of separate races has caused enormous suffering for millions of humans through our history, and continues today. People are still killed, imprisoned, and discriminated against because of a completely illusory “reality” that racial categories exist.

Most of us think we perceive reality directly and accurately. That is not true at all. Each of us creates, and lives in, our own individual reality.

A friend of mine shaved off half his moustache one morning, and then walked around all day enjoying people’s reactions. He couldn’t believe how long it took most people to become aware of his half-moustache.

People “saw” him with his moustache intact—entirely missing the reality that half of it was gone—because they were seeing a mind-generated reality, not the objective reality in front of them. When they finally noticed that half his moustache was missing their faces always registered shock (realizing how out of touch with reality they were) before dissolving into laughter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Consequences of no Free Will - Personal

Earlier posts have addressed the question of whether we have free will, which we resoundingly answer in the negative. We have also looked at the societal consequences of life without free will. In this post we’ll look at the personal implications.

What does life look like without free will? The short answer: instead of guilt, blame, and pride we have compassion and gratitude.

When people talk about free will they mean that every sane human being has the ability to make logical and rational choices between good and evil, and that each of us consciously and freely chooses our every thought and deed.

The first consequence of the belief in free will is guilt: we blame anyone who has done something wrong, including ourselves (shame is self-directed blame). To feel justified in assigning guilt or blame, we must believe that a person is intentionally or premeditatedlybehaving in a wrongful manner.
Free Will = Guilt
Cartoon by Arthur Hancock
They are doing wrong on purpose; they could have behaved differently if they had wanted to. They should have known better. Similarly, the only way we can feel shame is if we feel we could have behaved differently than we did. Free will is the cornerstone of this reasoning. When we believe in free will we think that we are the conscious directors of our behavior.

As the cartoon above illustrates, the conscious control component of guilt is easily demonstrated by imagining how we treat animals as opposed to humans for committing the very same acts.

Imagine that someone rounds a corner and walks right into you. Naturally you feel fully justified in blaming them for their inconsiderate carelessness: You shout, “Watch where the hell you’re going!” You then notice that this thoughtless twerp is wearing dark glasses and carrying the white-tipped cane of the blind. Ouch!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Consequences of No Free Will - Society

What would it mean to live in a world without free will? We can divide the consequences into two main categories: the personal and the social. In this post I’ll address the social, and in a later one I’ll write about what this means for our personal lives (hint: it’s great news).

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they contemplate life without free will is crime. The thinking goes something like this: If we don’t freely choose our actions, then we aren’t responsible for what we do and thus we can’t be held accountable. Every criminal will be found “not guilty because of extenuating circumstances beyond his or her control.” Crime will explode and anarchy will reign.

A punitive justice system like the one operating in the United States is entirely based upon the belief in free will. When a person is found to be guilty, the thinking process for that decision goes like this:
  1. You know the difference between right and wrong.

  2. You have the power to freely choose between right and wrong.

  3. You willfully chose wrong.

  4. You are, therefore, guilty of willful wrongdoing.

  5. You deserve to be punished.
At serial killer/necrophile/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s trial in Milwaukee, one of the prosecution’s arguments that the defendant was in his “right mind” - sane, aware of the difference between right and wrong, capable of rational choice, possessing free will - was that Mr. Dahmer had demonstrated prudent and rational thinking by using a condom when having sex with the corpses of his victims.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Science is Destroying the Concept of Free Will

Science appears to have killed the concept of “free will.”

A growing number of scientists have come to the conclusion that the physical universe is completely determined and that this removes any possibility of free will. Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science, lays out the basic scientific view of reality in his recent book, “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.” Here is how he summarizes reality: The physical universe and the laws of physics are completely deterministic. The universe began about 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang and everything that has happened since, including everything humans have ever done, was determined in that instant by the conditions of the fundamental parameters (e.g., the strength of the nuclear force) and the laws of physics. The brain is a physical system operating according to the laws of physics and the mind is a function of the brain. Thus the mind is completely determined.

Mr. Rosenberg writes, “When I make choices—trivial or momentous—it’s just another event in my brain locked into this network of processes going back to the beginning of the universe, long before I had the slightest ‘choice.’ Nothing was up to me. Everything—including my choice and my feeling that I can choose freely—was fixed by earlier states of the universe plus the laws of physics. End of story. No free will, just the feeling, the illusion in introspection, that my actions are decided by my conscious will.”

In the last decade or so numerous studies in neuroscience have made it obvious that most of the mental processes running our lives are completely below the level of our conscious awareness, so the concept that we have control over what we do has become laughable.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Do I Keep Acting Stupid?

Recently a question was posed by a visitor that is all-too-familiar to me personally: “I’ve read Ekhart Tolle, and other spiritual tomes, I intellectually agree—I “get it”—so how come I keep doing the same stupid things over and over again?”

Now the classic answer to this dilemma is “You obviously haven’t sufficiently committed to dropping your shit!” Or:  “You haven’t been willing to undergo the discomfort of changing an unproductive pattern of behavior.” In other words, you’re a lazy worthless piece of crap.

I’ve spent almost forty years developing what I believe to be a profoundly logical way of looking at life; written books and a hundred songs about expanded consciousness—yet every blessed day I act like a flaming asshole in some way or another. The self-damning question is, “If you know so goddamned much, why don’t you LIVE it?

Monday, August 27, 2012


Realizing that I am insane, that I’m confused about reality, has made it easier to question my beliefs and assumptions—if I’m insane how right can I be about anything? One result is that I’ve realized how deluded I’ve been about myself. I have been blind to certain aspects of my personality my entire life!

In We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity I talk about how I thought for a long time that I wasn’t a competitive person and how startling it was when I realized that self-assessment is wrong. I am in fact a very competitive person. As long as I was convinced that my subjective belief “I am not competitive” was an objective fact, I was completely kidding myself. Now that I have exposed this belief as a lie, I may still be competitive but at least I am not so deluded about who I am.

Recently I have faced another area where I was mistaken about myself: patience. If you had asked me a few months ago if I was a patient person, I would have answered, “yes, I have a lot of patience.” One of my hobbies is weaving, and when people learn how many hours it takes just to set the loom up before weaving even starts, they can’t imagine having the patience to do that.

I hate to lose things because I feel that searching for a lost item is a frustrating waste of time and energy. As a consequence I am very organized and can almost always put my hands on anything in a very short time, no matter how long it’s been since that thing has been used.

I think of time and energy as finite resources that are extremely valuable, and I think I am right to conserve them, not squander them. So I feel justified in criticizing people who are sloppy and careless with their time and energy, particularly when their inefficiency impacts my life! If I’m impatient with their inefficiency, that’s not my problem, it’s their’s.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Evolution of Confusion

There's nothing wrong with insanity. In fact, it was an evolutionary inevitability that the human race would go through a period of confusion and delusion as we developed the capacity for thought.

The Evolution of Confusion, a song from the musical version of We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity, explains how it all came to be.

Performed at The Altamont Theater, Asheville NC on July 19, 2012, by Arthur Hancock, Katie Brugger, and band.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Born in a Madhouse

We ask on our website homepage, "What if the entire human race were insane?" Answer: We'd all be born into a madhouse...

Born in a Madhouse from Time Capsule Video on Vimeo.

This video is from the performance at The Altamont Theater, July 19, 2012 by Arthur Hancock, Katie Brugger, and band.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Humility or Humiliation?

For most of my life I hated the idea of humility. For me humility was synonymous with humiliation, it meant saying, “I don’t know” or “I’m wrong.” I’ve always hated being wrong, so I would work hard to either be perfect so no one could find fault with me, or find rationalizations to explain my mistakes away. I also pride myself on my intelligence so I hate admitting that there are things I don’t know.

But the truth is human beings are limited creatures. I have limited knowledge. I have limited abilities. I have limited understanding.

Humility just means the willingness to acknowledge my limitations, to face the truth of just how much there is that I don’t know.

The oracle at Delphi named Socrates the wisest man in Athens. Socrates rhetorically asked, “How can I be the wisest man in Athens if I know nothing?” The answer, of course, was that Socrates was the only man in Athens who knew he knew nothing—and thereby knew more than the rest of the population! Socrates had humility.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Aurora shooting occurs at film that glorifies violence

Has anyone else noticed the irony that the audience in Aurora was gleefully assembled to drink in every frame of Hollywood's latest simulated snuff-film, a blockbuster extolling violence as a solution? Got a problem? Kill it! Someone hurt you? Hurt 'em back! Tit for tat! The shooter obviously agreed with this lofty editorial position: (a) other people have made my life wretched (b) other people are the problem (c) other people must suffer as I have suffered. A no-brainer. Literally.

Bob Dylan once wrote a song called "Who Killed Davey Moore?" about a prize fighter who died in the ring. The question is repeatedly asked, "Who killed Davey Moore? Why and what's the reason for?" Each subsequent verse is devoted to a person or persons involved in the "sport" who deny their culpability: "Not I," said the referee, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, and finally the opponent who dealt the actual death blow.

I think we should legalize snuff films--have poor people well-paid to literally be slaughtered for our amusement up there on the big screen. Wouldn't that be more honest?

People ask "Why?"

Because we've been trained to love violence that's why. The purveyors of this sick trash are insane and so are we when we support it.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Metaphysical basis for human insanity

1. Assume a state of infinite consciousness exists.

2. This state is absolutely unlimited. There are no unknowns, there are no limitations, there is no "other." There is only One.

3. The only conceivable limitation to being absolutely unlimited is the inability to experience limitation.

4. The inability to experience limitation is a limitation and makes the unlimited limited after all—a contradiction.

5. In order to be absolutely unlimited the unlimited must be able to experience limitation.

6. The only way the unlimited can have a completely realistic experience of limitation is to temporarily forget that it is unlimited.

7. The universe is the unlimited experiencing limitation in a state of amnesia.

8. The truth is infinite consciousness. Everything else is illusion.

9. Relating to an illusion as though it is the truth is insane.

10. This is why human insanity (a delusional state) is universal. We all live our lives as though we know who we are, what we are, where we are, when we are, why we are, what we’re doing, where we came from, and where we’re going. The truth is we don’t know. We are lost in space, wandering in an amnesiac fog and our ignorance—in spite of flush toilets and particle accelerators--is almost absolute.

The metaphysics is from our first book, “The Game of God: Recovering Your True Identity.” Oprah called it “A great book about God.”

We find this twenty year-old work supports our universal insanity theory very neatly.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hurting others is an act of insanity

Do we think James Holmes is innocent by reason of insanity for the Aurora Colorado mass killing? Absolutely.

When you look at the crime itself, and think about how much preparation this man did ahead of time, it is understandable that many people would think he is sane. It appears that a lot of coldhearted, rational, logical thinking went into the planning. It’s easy to conclude that Holmes must be some kind of evil monster, even “diabolical” and “demonic” to quote Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado from Sunday's Meet the Press.

But according to the thinking of this philosophy, no one in his or her right mind could ever commit such an act. It is impossible to be sane and do such a thing. In fact, any act that hurts another person is the result of delusional thinking, from a driver cutting someone off in traffic to a trader on Wall Street purposefully deceiving her customers to Jerry Sandusky molesting children. Hurting yourself or another is an indication of insanity.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Planning Fallacy and the London Olympics

In his bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses many common cognitive and decision-making errors. One that I’m certainly familiar with is called the “planning fallacy.”

Almost everyone, Kahneman says, creates forecasts that “are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios and could be improved by consulting the statistics of similar cases.” He uses as an example kitchen renovation projects. The average estimate for the job is about $18,000, and the average final cost is close to $38,000. But no one ever begins the renovation thinking their project will have those kinds of cost over-runs.

It’s not surprising that ordinary people fall prey to this common decision-making error, but you’d think people who are professional planners would know better. In the August 2012 Harper’s Index, there’s a perfect example of the planning fallacy on a large scale:
Cost of staging the 2012 London Olympics Games as estimated by the British government in 2003: $3.7 billion

Cost as currently estimated by the British government: $14.6 billion

As estimated by an independent study: $37 billion

When is the last time you heard of a large government or corporate project that didn’t involve huge cost overruns? You’d think the people involved in the planning of such projects would study similar projects, learn from the mistakes others have made, and plan accordingly. But it seems like we are all afflicted with the same prejudice: I’m different and I won’t fall prey to the same problems other people do.

What word describes the Olympics cost over-run better than “insane”? This is the confusion of subjective opinion with objective fact (our definition of insane) brought into the realm of public policy. (Not to mention the insanity of spending this kind of money on a spectacle with the austerity budget now in place in Britain.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taking Responsibility

Personal responsibility. At first glance the philosophy espoused here seems to be saying no one should be held responsible for their actions. The song

Not Right in My Mind from Time Capsule Video on Vimeo.

seems to provide the excuse for every charge from the most minor bit of rudeness to premeditated murder:  “For every time I’ve scowled at you in traffic, Or honked or cursed or given the high sign, I just want to say I couldn’t help myself, The truth is I was not right in my mind.”

After listening to some of the songs from “We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity,” a person commented:
 The notion behind not being responsible for any actions, while a bit intriguing, just doesn’t jive with my beliefs; I believe only some of us are truly insane and the rest of us, who occasionally (or some, frequently) behave badly, are somewhere on the continuum of just immoral, all the way down to lazy, when we don’t behave well.
The basic premise of “we are all innocent by reason of insanity” is that everyone is delusional because we all confuse our subjective opinions with objective fact. Our subjective opinions slant our perception of reality. Everything we do and think is rationalized and justified in our minds. This is the path to compassion: we realize that people “behave badly” because they are confused in their thinking.

It’s also a path to personal responsibility. When I realize I’m crazy I realize my thinking is confused, therefore it’s easier to question the thoughts that led me to take an action that turned out badly.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Problems in Living

I watched the film “Night of the Iguana” recently (we’re having a Tennessee Williams fest), and I was struck by the incredible compassion of this line: “Nothing human disgusts me,” spoken by the itinerant painter during the fallen minister’s dark night of the soul.

Dissident psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has challenged the very concept of mental illness; he theorizes that every human struggles with what he calls “problems of living,” the effort to cope with the reality they find themselves in. Some people have more difficulty coping than the average person, and these are the ones our society labels “mentally ill.”

The journal American Psychologist published an essay by Szasz in 1960 entitled, “The Myth of Mental Illness,” in which he argues that the concept of “mental illness” will one day be seen to be as primitive as the belief that the devil causes us to misbehave. In addition, he makes clear that much of what is labeled mental illness is determined by adherence to cultural norms: “what people now call mental illnesses are for the most part communications expressing unacceptable ideas, often framed, moreover, in an unusual idiom.” In Szasz’s view the psychiatrist acts as a form of policeman enforcing society’s consensual reality: “The psychiatrist does not stand apart from what he observes, but is, in Harry Stack Sullivan’s apt words, a ‘participant observer.’ This means that he is committed to some picture of what he considers reality—and to what he thinks society considers reality—and he observes and judges the patient's behavior in the light of these considerations.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Don't See a Judge Before Lunch

Daniel Kahneman’s bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow” analyzes the way we process information, and shows how much of our thinking is outside our conscious control. One example he gives is a study of judges in Israel that revealed that 65 percent of requests for parole were granted after meals, dropping steadily to zero until just before the judges’ “next feeding.”

We think we have free will, we think we choose our actions freely. So how do you explain the judges’ actions? Judges are trained to put aside their personal prejudices and biases, and yet they clearly can’t overcome the most basic cognitive biases of all, those rooted in our physiology.

Dr. Kahneman’s book is only one of a stream of new books that question the basis of our belief in free will. For a review of some of these books, see “The Amygdala Made Me Do It,” by James Atlas. Atlas summarizes:
These books possess a unifying theme: The choices we make in day-to-day life are prompted by impulses lodged deep within the nervous system. Not only are we not masters of our fate; we are captives of biological determinism. Once we enter the portals of the strange neuronal world known as the brain, we discover that — to put the matter plainly — we have no idea what we’re doing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What, me crazy?

After laughing in recognition at the truth of the statement “we are all innocent by reason of insanity,” most people get quiet. They’re thinking, “What me, crazy? I don’t think so! I’m not in need of a straightjacket. I’m not a raving loony. Maybe I’ve got some problems but I’m not insane, I’m a normal, healthy-minded, rational human being.”

As we wrote in the earlier post, What do we Mean by Insane?, no one sees reality accurately. All we see is a mind-generated virtual reality. Most of us unquestioningly believe our virtual reality is actual reality. In other words, we are deluded, and delusional is just another word for insane.

Webster’s New Universal, Unabridged Dictionary defines “delusion” as: a fixed, false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.

It’s easy to think of some common delusions. For example, how many of us have looked at ourselves in the mirror and been oblivious to the weight we’ve gained, seeing instead the thinner self of years past? Then when we put on a pair of pants we haven’t worn for awhile, feeling surprise when they’re tight?

Friday, May 18, 2012

What do we mean by insane?

In a word: delusional.

Most of us think we perceive reality directly and accurately. That is not true at all. Our senses take in information from our environment, and that information is filtered through our beliefs and assumptions before we become aware of it. Our reality is generated in our minds. Each of us creates our own individual reality.

Psychologists put it this way: we build models of reality in our minds, called “mental maps,” which we use to navigate the world. We do not see actual reality, whatever that might be. We see only our mental models of reality.

No one knows what reality actually is, but we all think and behave as if we do. We erroneously conclude that our model of reality is reality.

What do we call someone who confuses their model of reality with reality itself? We call them delusional, or insane.

The idea that we live in a mind-generated reality seems strange because it feels like we experience the physical world directly and perceive it accurately. For example, when I want to pick my shoe up off the floor I can accurately locate the physical object—the shoe is here on the floor, not over there on the dining table—and I can precisely move my hand to its location and pick it up. Surely this means I’m experiencing the physical world the way it is!

Optical illusions are amusing and shocking because they let us see that we do not perceive physical reality accurately.