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The Man without a Past: Movie talk

This is a 2002 Finnish film about a man saved by the Salvation Army in a most odd manner.  For your reference, here is a wiki summary and Rotten Tomato review.  But for my post, let me tell you a few points I enjoyed about the film:

  • It is in Finnish — a language I have never heard.  I loved the new exposure though I must say, my first impression of the language was not positive.  But language aesthetics  is simply a matter of personal taste and apparently I have odd tastes in language, because I enjoy: Russian, Arabic, Swedish and German to name a few.
  • It was a slow movie with much feeling.
  • It showed deep relationships forming with almost no dialogue of any significant content nor any action.  This bothered me at first, because I love dialogue and action.  But soon, I learned to value the silence.  Interesting.
  • It showed two people meet through religion, help break its rules and form their own redemption.  Though the religion is somewhat ignored, it always played a role.  The religion was not obstructive, but deeply helpful.
  • It was a film with redemption — one of my favorite themes.
  • I spent a summer working in Ocean Grove — Jersey Beach religious town known as “The Queen of Religious Resorts”.   My job was as a dishwasher in a large hotel on the beach owned by a Salvation Army family.  I found both the town and the religion stifling.  This film showed a stuffy Salvation Army too.  But the two main characters found redemption in spite of that.

— HT for the recommendation to a Petteri, a Finnish blogger.

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Reality Eats Us and …

Some folks are inclined to feel they are the masters of their destiny, they choose their own beliefs and they make independent choices.  Some folks feel that life happens to them, they have no control and that even their beliefs are unfortunate accidents of birth.

It is clear that our up-bringing, our social circles, our genetics and much more determine much of who we are — even our beliefs.  In other words, “Reality Eats Us”.   But it is also clear that we can affect our environment, our choices matter and we are active participants in reality.  In other words, “We Eat Reality”.

Here are two pics which for me illustrate this apparent paradox:  Reality eats Us AND We eat Reality.  The odd thing is, that for me, this no longer feels like a paradox — it feels whole and alive.

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Fighting Dragons & Santa

Dragon Fighting (HT: Elfwood.com)

Our house is on top of a hill and we have forest around much of our property.  I love walks in the woods with my kids.  Sometimes for fun, during walks, my son and I grab large sticks and pretend to fight invisible dragons.  We both love the manly power behind the swords and fighting off evil, dangerous creatures to protect the innocent.  But of course the dragons are a myth like Santa Claus.

My daughter is not much into dragons but loves Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  However, my children realized quicker than most (by years) that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were just stories.  Prior to their disbelief, when my son was pretty convinced that Santa Clause was a fabrication, he asked me, “Dad, Santa isn’t real, is he?  You and Mom do all that, right?”  I tried to quickly think what was behind the obvious question.

You see, my wife and I never really spoke of Santa as real at any time, but many of his friends firmly believed in Santa perhaps because their parents had woven the story with much more sincerity.   My son had been talking with kids at school about it and I could tell he was about to share his insights with his friends and perhaps with his younger sister.

So I said to my son, “Do you like slaying Dragons with me in the woods?”
“Yes,” he replied.
I pushed further, “Well, are the dragons real?”
“No, of course not,” he said.
“Well, should we stop pretending because they aren’t real?” I asked timidly (because I loved fighting dragons with him).
“Well, no,” he said.  Then with a smile he said, “Oh, I see, Dad.”
Then I wrapped up our conversation by saying, “And remember, lots of kids really enjoy Santa.  There is no reason to spoil it early for them.”  He understood and agreed.  With that, we went outside and fought dragons for a short while.

My daughter is much more creative than my son in the realm of stories and art.  She does not believe in Santa nor in the Tooth Fairy, but she still talks about them as if they are real and insists on them coming to life at the appropriate times.  But she is very comfortable with the contradictory simultaneous embracing of talking about Mom and Dad as really being these imaginary folks and still using these imaginary creatures to enrich her, and our lives.  As a young child, she could only embrace the myth, now as a mature child, she can do both.

Question for readers:  How did Santa go for you?
Related PostMy son and the Tooth Fairy: sacrificing reason.

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Sabio is Banned in China

An expat reader of this blog who lives in China has informed me that about two weeks ago the Chinese blocked Triangulations on their internet.  Oh the horror!  I have lost billions of potential readers.  Oh the injustice!

I thought something was up when I noticed a sudden drop in the hits on my “Fart Logic” post which had gone viral about two months earlier.  That post uses Chinese characters, so maybe that put me on the Chinese’s radar.  But seriously,  I can imagine any number of other posts which the Chinese purity police may have not liked:

Questions for Readers:  Have you ever been banned?  So what do you think got me banned?  Which of your posts have gone viral?

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For Pedant Word Nazis


In keeping with comments from my last post, I just had to put up this 6-minute Stephen Fry talk which does a great job showing why nominalists will always win the day over essentialists (read: “prescriptionists“).  Those who are busy trying to tell others what the true form of their of their favorite “ism” should be, might find this short video a bit upsetting.  Listen at your own risk.

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Rebirth, Reincarnation or Neither

This is an index of my posts on reincarnation and rebirth.  It will also serve as a list outside articles/posts I find addressing the reincarnation/rebirth debate in Buddhism.

If you want to suggest an article/post on reincarnation/rebirth in Buddhism, please add it to the comments below or e-mail me at “fullname”@gmail.com and we can discuss by e-mail — I won’t be discussing here.  If I enjoy the article (pro or con), I will add it to my list below.

Thank you kindly. May this exercise help develop discernment which can aid in lessening suffering.

My Posts Relating to Reincarnation

Articles against rebirth

Articles for rebirth but against reincarnation

Articles against both reincarnation & rebirth

  • coming

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My Previous Life as a German

Many years ago I was traveling from Chicago to Pakistan to do graduate studies in religion and philosophy.  En route I stopped in Ohio to visit my mother and to get may passport visa.  However, the visa had problems and I had to stay three weeks in Ohio waiting for clearance.  During that time, I met a young lady under unusual circumstances.  We dated for those weeks during which I had two unique “reincarnation-tinged” experiences with her.  You judge, I am still not quite sure how to explain these events.

The Ballroom Mirage

Our first date was at a gorgeous restaurant on Lake Erie.  It was a big open restaurant with people in very nice attire.  I was talking with my new friend when all of a sudden, my vision of the whole room changed abruptly.  Instead of an American restaurant, I was now looking at a room full of men wearing a German officer dress uniforms and women were in very fancy long white dresses.  I stared in disbelief, looking past my friend at this incredible transformation.  I felt paralyzed.

After about five to ten seconds the all-too-real mirage faded and I could hear my new friend’s voice saying, “Sabio, you OK?”  I shook my head and apologized to her and lied to her saying that I had just had a very strange memory.  I didn’t want to tell her about my vision — after all, we had just met and I wasn’t sure what  she would think of me if I were honest.  She said I was staring blankly into space.  Was this a petite mal seizure?  I would only have one more changed vision experience in my life years later,  so I can’t say I had a propensity toward these experiences.

The Prisoner Dream Confirmed

A few weeks later, two nights before I left for Pakistan,  I had a strange vivid dream.  In my dream, I was a German soldier who had somehow betrayed my comrades and was stripped of my uniform.  I was sitting in a line with other people (not all of them were soldiers).  My wrists were tied as were the wrists of those being held captive me.  The person next to me was actually a friend, but out of fear, we were not talking.  We were in a tunnel or a dark narrow corridor.  An armed German guard walked up to me and started talking to me.  Suddenly the guard got angry, pulled out his pistol and shot me in my chest.  I slumped into the lap of the friend next to me and died.

I woke from that dream with may heart beating and sweating.  The next day I was talking that same woman friend and without my mentioning my dream, she spontaneously told me she had a dream about me the same previous night.  In her dream it was night time and she was sitting next to me with a line people who were all prisoners.  Likewise, in her dream  someone came by and shot me.  She said I slumped into her lap and died.

My mouth hung open in huge surprise!  I shared my dream and then felt safe to tell her about the mirage I had seen a few weeks ago at the restaurant.  The “coincidence” was overwhelming for both of us.

My German Background:

  • My mother’s grandparents came from Germany.  During Word-War II when she was a young child, German was forbidden to speak in their house so that they did not stand out in their community.
  • Since I was very young, I was always attracted to German and studied it from 8th to 12th grade, in college and later at the Goethe Institute in Germany.

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Related posts of mine:

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NonSense Chanting Pragmatics

Chanting has been with us for a long time.  Non-literate societies use it as a technique of remembering and passing on information before leaves, scrolls, books and computer chips made it easy.  Chanting is also connected to singing and music which have very interesting effects on the human brain.

Let me be outright about my pragmatic, naturalistic propensities:  Chanting can have many desirable effects on the human mind: memory, mood shifting, consciousness-altering and perhaps others.  All of these, I am sure, can also be detected with measurements to some degree.

Though chanting most likely evolved essentially as a memory heuristic, I think NonSense chanting (discussed in my post on magic-language bias) evolved because people valued the mood/consciousness shifting effect over the information-transmission effect.  Or perhaps they just valued the “traditions-re-enforcing” effect over information.   But why not keep the information-transmission component?

Well, I think that the magic-language-illusion played a role in this.  Many humans associate the way of their elders as sacred tradition and full of deep wisdom.  This is a conservative reflex which many people share.  Thus, to make the chanting effective as a mood shifter, religious specialists tied (perhaps sub-consciously) this magic-language-bias to the chanting to amplify its mind shifting effect or social-ordering effect.  Indeed, since people could no longer understand the words, they could no longer be distracted by them and thus the focus of the activity/ritual was on the other desired mental state.

Can “NonSense Chanting” be useful?

I don’t believe in Magic.  So I don’t believe NonSense Chanting can effect the external world.  But sure, it can alter internal moods, train the mind or alter consciousness — and such activities can be useful.  Likewise, singing, droning, dancing and much more can do the same.  To engage in these activities, people ritualized them so as to make group practice easier.

Can “NonSense Chanting” be counter-productive?

Sure it can.  What if the activity is re-enforcing negative habits of mind.  Well, belief in magic (over the long haul) I think is a negative habit.  Belief in the sacredness of a given language (over other languages) is a mistake and can have bad effects on the mind.  You see, I think an accurately discerning mind is highly valuable.  I could go on, but let me get to the last important question.

Can self-deceptive mental habits be useful?

Yes, I think it is a matter of deciding if the trade-off is worth it.  This issue is sometimes called “Skillful Means” in Buddhism and “Consequentialism” in ethics.  But truly understanding the long-term effect of such a compromise is difficult.  Sometimes such a trade-off is undesirable.

Ideally we have both good means and good ends.  Ideally we don’t have to deceive ourselves or others to accomplish desirable goals.  Here on my blog I like to be open about how we deceive ourselves.  I am not saying it is always bad to deceive ourselves (though many Atheists think it is), but I am always hoping that slowly we can recognize what is actually the case in the world (“truth”) and build mental technology which does not need to much compromise.  This may often an unreasonable goal, but it is the conversation I enjoy.

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Classifying Atheists (part I)

Atheists come in all different flavors with some of those differences being more important than their similarities.  In this post I will discuss three traits that help separate the variety of atheists out there.  I will then, for fun, I will illustrate them all in one graph.  Remember, sometimes our differences are more interesting than our similarities.  For instance, ironically a theist and atheist may share more in common than they do with their fellow theist or atheist.

# 1  Spectrum of Outreach:

Spectrum of outreach is the ease with which we reach out and discuss our beliefs .  I threw these categories together on the fly, so if you have better ones, let me know.

 2.  Previous Adult Theism:

Were you a theist when you were an adult?  If so, how fervent were you? An atheist who was a former believer has a very different experience and expression that those who were never believers of any religion (“natural atheists”).   And those who were just casual, cultural believers are again very different from those who were fervent.  Lastly, if fervent, those who embraced for mystical reasons versus those for self-righteous reasons are yet again very different – but that is another post.

3.  Systematic Positioning:

How “systematized” is your atheism? How carefully have you thought about Atheism?  Have you read wide variety of other opinions, tried to organize and challenge your thoughts? How intellectual is your atheism?  How staked-out are your positions?  There are lots of ways to say what I am getting at.

Question to readers:  Where do you fall on this graph? (how about your significant others?) Sabio, for instance, is “an eager  G-8” (an orange dot).

I also experimented by throwing a few famous atheists on the chart but I need more.  Are there well-known atheists you can graph for me?  Here are the ones commenters have give data sets for (remember the outreach spectrum):

Here are readers who have contributed already – I linked their website if they have one. If their number is in black, it is because they have not yet told me where they lie on the spectrum of outreach.

Please try to just play along.  Don’t get hung up on precision — the method and categories are all grossly inaccurate and its only real value is to illustrate concepts.   But I think the chart illustrates some interesting points.  Paft II will hopefully clarify my objectives in the post.  Please offer your insights.
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My Related  Posts on “Taxonomy”:

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All Chickens Look Alike

Chickens scrounging for bugs in our yard.

Chickens

We raise chickens for eggs and meat.  We occasionally give some away to help people start their own chicken colony.  Today friends came over to pick out 5 of our 30 birds to start their own little farm.  They were amazed when my 8-year-old daughter ran around tell them the names of each chicken.  The couple puzzled, “How do you tell the difference between all these birds?  They all look the same to us?”  To which my daughter quickly responded, rather baffled, “It is easy, they are all different!”

A crowd of Japanese folks

Caucassians

Flash back 20 years: I am in a Japanese movie theater watching an American film dubbed in Japanese with a good Japanese friend.  He kept asking me who was who throughout the film.  I kept reminding him but after a while I grew impatient and said, “Look, I just told you two minutes ago who that was!”  He replied shyly, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be offensive, but all you white people look the same to me.”  I smiled with irony.

Atheists & Christians

We can easily see the differences among our familiars.  Generalizing about those outside of our group comes natural.  I visit many blog sites where Christians generalize about Atheists and Atheist generalize about Christians.  Heck, I have to fight the tendency in myself all the time.  We are all susceptible to the same silly biases!

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