Thursday, September 25, 2008

Which Reality?

Animal reality, human reality, or actual reality? The reality of non-human life exists in the moment. Eat, avoid being eaten, and reproduce. The human brain allows the construction of an artificial, shared reality. This shared reality serves to organize large groups of people for common goals. The value of a shared reality is whether it works well to provide for the needs of the large group.

Religion is a mechanism (organizer) for creating a shared reality. It works better than no organizer at all. But all shared realities are artificial. There is no objective reality to the shared cultural reality. This does not mean that all cultural realities are equally valid, because some work better as group organizers than others.

There is also an actual reality, such as gravity, molecules and evolution. Science supports this idea that there is an actual reality separate from artificial, human, cultural reality. Science is a method for ascertaining actual reality, and as such it works well as a problem solver; it is the best method we have for testing solutions to problems.

Science can be used to construct a shared reality which is based on actual reality. Atheists and scientists are subscribers to the idea that actual reality can be an organizer for civilization that is superior to previous organizers. This is because an organizing system based on objective reality is going to work better at the basic purpose of culture, which is to provide for the needs of the group.

It is very important in adopting a shared reality to achieve a degree of conformity for the purpose of consistency. A shared reality will not work unless most of the members actually share it, so society creates mechanisms to pressure individuals into accepting the shared reality. It is useful to create the idea that this reality is the right one, or the only acceptable one, in order to enforce cooperation. If it is taught at an early, formative age and imprinted in the brain during development it is difficult for people to let go of it later.

Atheism and a scientific world view are inconsistent with a shared reality that is based on the belief in a supernatural being of magical powers that organizes and moves the universe. In order to accept the scientific world view one must overcome the very powerful mechanisms that exist for enforcing a common reality, especially early imprinting. The scientific world view works better, and has the best chance of providing for the needs of the emerging human condition, which is a very large population with the attendant issues such as food, space, pollution, and disease.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Solving problems

The grandparents of the students entering college this year were born into a world of two billion people. When these students graduate in 2012 the Earth will contain seven billion human beings, and by 2050 there will be nine billion. All these people will need safe food, clean water, shelter, energy, health care and education while preventing catastrophic climate change, epidemic disease and global conflict. If we fail to solve these problems there is a high probability that our species will become extinct. We may have already exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity for human beings, and if so it will likely be known within the lifetime of today’s students. What skills will they need to deal with these issues?

Solving problems requires genuine critical thinking. Science uses strict tests of reality based on evidence, while faith makes a virtue of non-critical thinking. Do we really expect to find solutions using a system that values belief in magic, a system based on sending telepathic wishes to an imaginary friend?

Accepting this is a very difficult process for most people. You must be willing to use your powers of reasoning and think for yourself. You must try to get past what your parents taught you, what peer pressure from your community is imposing on you, including the intense hatred that often comes from ‘people of faith’ whose beliefs are challenged. (People tend to get a bit nasty when you tell them they are in fact not going to live forever.) Ask yourself where 'faith' has gotten us so far, and what it is responsible for in the world today. We must put that behind us in order to cope with the problems that are already facing the world.

How can we acquire the skills we will need to solve what is probably the greatest challenge that has ever faced humanity? All reasoned comments are welcome.