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    Now this really bugs me

    First of all, another comment that my lack of blogging results from:

    1. Getting a bit tired of rehashing the same themes (there are only so many ways that thinking goes awry in the New Age and “spiritual” world, really)
    2. Being busy with things like Invisible Shoes running sandals
    3. Nothing spinning in my head  loudly enough that I need to get it out by writing it down

    Well, that’s about to change. There’s a thought-storm a-brewin’ and this brief post will hint at what it is.

    So let me get there by starting here:

    You probably know about the various “caveman” or “paleolithic” diets. They suggest that we should eat like our 100,000 year old ancestors for maximum health and a lean, trim body.

    Okay, let’s ignore for a moment that most of what they ate no longer exists — the fruits and vegetables they would find have long since been selectively bred out of existence, for example.

    And let’s ignore that their lifestyle — which involved a surprisingly small amount of driving, deskwork, and Twitter/Facebook status updates — is, oh, a bit passe.

    But here’s what gets me. I’ve never heard one of the paleo/cave proponents recommend a food that was eaten frequently by our more hirsute relatives… one that is a source of a significant percentage of protein in the diets of many modern societies.

    Insects.

    Yup. Bugs, grubs, spiders, creepy-crawly things. Oh, and let’s not forget lizards who, it seems, had not yet been turned into hyper-expensive boots.

    If you’re going to propose that we get in the Way-Back Machine and knosh at a pre-historic Denny’s, then you can’t cherry-pick your data (and cherries, back then, were sour and sucked). You can’t leave out the pieces of the puzzle that you find unpleasant or, worse, unmarketable.

    So, you paleolithic pansies, get thee to an Asian grocery for some palm grubs (smoothies, anyone?). Hop over to an exotic pet store for a plateful of crickets and grasshoppers. Don’t feed that monitor lizard you have as a pet… pet it gently with marinade as you roast it over an open flame.

    Oh, and walk all the way to and fro on your gathering errands, cause finding this stuff shouldn’t be easy.

    Now, all that said, how does this relate to our normal topic-du-blog?

    I’ve been struck lately by how Western Buddhists have been cherry-picking philosophy and taking the bugs out of the teachings they don’t find palatable (like, oh, the little idea that “enlightenment” or the “end of suffering” — the promise and #1 sales pitch of Buddhism — is attainable through diligent practice of monastic life… and, instead, Buddhism is really promising that, in the moment, you have the ability to be more present and less reactive… Whoopty-friggin’ do).

    But more about that later, once the volume of that thought in my brain gets to 11.

    28 Responses to “Now this really bugs me”

    1. Ian Says:

      So an acquaintance of mine hooked me in to your existence and I’ve read several of your anti-guru posts with absolute glee. But here’s where I have to throw down the rubber glove and draw a line in the child-safe, non-toxic sand: I’ve watched your PowerPoint style presentation on Why what you teach is different and I say thee Nay! You don’t (in the presentation or print) teach meditation. What you teach is valuable perhaps, though I can’t see it from the distance of being unwilling (and poor) to invest my hard earned pesos in your scheme to industrial enlightenment but from your own description I would say you Don’t Teach Meditation. Meditation (it’s my email I get to call the terms) I would define as a process, not a goal. It Is the road that matters, not the destination. Being willing to sit and breathe through your nose like it matters for twenty minutes a day has Worth, in and of itself, not because you achieve enlightenment but because you put forth the effort. Six pack abs in twelve sessions means flab and insulin injections when you stop. What you (appear from a distance of not having joined) to teach I would call self-hypnosis. There is value in this but it is a Different value from meditation.

      So… there. Nyah! and stuff. If you do respond, I’ll look forward to it. Presently you seem like a guru decrying the methods of other gurus. I don’t believe in one-true-wayism, even if there are ten separate and different CDs to choose from, but for whatever reason, you caught my attention enough to care about arguing with you.

    2. sashen Says:

      Hey, Ian… thanks for your comment, off-topic though it may be 😉

      In fact, before I respond to your points, let me highlight for anyone else reading, that you’re talking about my “Instant Advanced Meditation” course and the techniques and ideas within it (so they know where the “off” in “off-topic” is), and not about eating bugs.

      Okay, that said, let me start in reverse order:

      I can’t respond intelligently about the word “guru” unless you give me the definition you’re using for it, much as you did for “meditation.”

      Suffice it to say, I would argue that I’m no guru in that I’m not presenting any prescriptions for living, holding myself up as the ideal (or pointing to some other being as an ideal), nor am I presenting a “way”, since I have no path or goal that I promise, point to, or even care about… beyond the immediate experience that one has during a meditation session. I have no concept called “enlightenment,” industrial or otherwise.

      So, you propose that sitting for 20 minutes a day, day after day, has value, in and of itself. Okay. Well, then feel free to do the I AM practices for 20 minutes a day, day after day. That’s actually one of the 4 methods of practicing I describe (but don’t prescribe because, again, I have no prescriptions for living, nor future goal that I’m suggesting anyone will attain).

      I’d say that, if you did I AM for 20/day you would notice that, compared to other meditation practices done, the “results” you would get in each practice session (and by “results” I mean states of calm, insight, relaxation, spaciousness, expansion, clarity, etc.) would come more reliably, consistently, quickly and easily. And it’s not because the techniques are some form of self-hypnosis (they are far from that), but because they involve an easy-to-do shifting of attention rather than trying to get the mind to do something it does not naturally “want” to do (e.g. concentrate without deviation, or allow objects of attention to come and go without interference).

      Ironically, it becomes simpler to concentrate, or be mindful, or “let things be” when you do the I AM techniques, but that’s merely a side-effect.

      Now, back to your point.

      If you’re going to define meditation as a process, can you more specifically define the process? The process of what? Of just sitting and attempting to watch your breathing (for example), with the attendant challenges that engaging in such a task entails (which was developed by and for renunciates and not laymen)? Or something else?

      If the definition is “meditation = process”… then, it would seem, the technique one uses is irrelevant. You could do anything in the contemplative arena for your 20 min/day. TM, vipassana, zazen, tratak, mantra, etc. And that brings us back to my point above… you can use the I AM techniques as you engage in that process, just like you could use any of the myriad other techniques that have been developed.

      If, as you say, there’s value in putting in 20 min/day… what is it? What’s the value of putting in the continued and sustained effort (and overcoming the various seeming obstacles to doing so)?

      The question I asked myself, and continue to explore is this: Is whatever one gets from meditation — including what many say only comes from the process of practicing for X minutes/day for Y years — attainable in any other, more reliable, consistent and efficacious way?

      For example, perhaps there’s something you may discover almost by accident after 10 years of daily sitting practice (and I say “almost by accident” because whatever you find will not necessarily be found by someone else who has put in the same 10 years… or it may have been found by another student in just 1… and it’s a discovery that was not pointed to directly, but found inadvertently).

      Well, what if there were a way of engendering the same realization or understanding in a simpler, quicker and more reliable way?

      And by “the same”… I mean “the same”… that any benefits or changes in awareness or behavior or physiology that each person manifested would be indistinguishable. That’s a tricky one for people to grasp sometimes we have a cognitive bias to think that the end results *couldn’t* be the same if one person worked for 10 years to get it and the other worked for 10 months, or 10 days, or 10 minutes. But why would they have to be different? (You may know that this very question is what split Zen Buddhism into 2 different schools, where one said that the path required years of effort, and the other said, “Uh, no, it can be instantaneous, now.”) As an analogy, there are people today who, arguably, understand E=mc2 as well if not better than Einstein did… but they learned it in short order at school and didn’t spend years developing it themselves.

      All that said, happy to have caught your attention, and thanks for joining in on what I like to call “my favorite conversation.”

      -S

    3. Erich Says:

      Hi Steven, I always enjoy your iconoclasm. Your comments about Buddhism made me wonder if you have a spiritual practice. If not: smile, Darwin loves you!

    4. sashen Says:

      Hi Erich,

      I’m not sure. You’ll have to define “spiritual” and “practice” (and maybe, then, “spiritual practice”) for me to even attempt an answer to that question.

      Oh, and do you mean Bob Darwin, our mailman?!

    5. Erich Says:

      Hi Steven, no need to be so analytical, you’ll intuitively know if you have a spiritual practice or not. No, not Bob Darwin your mailman, but Charles Darwin, the apeman!

    6. sashen Says:

      Hi again, Erich.

      I wasn’t trying to be analytical. I was actually trying to make a different point (unsuccessfully, apparently), and that is: I don’t use the words “spiritual” or “practice.” And the phrase “spiritual practice” definitely has no meaning for me. So, to answer your question I’d have to know what you mean by them.

      It’s kind of like when someone asks “Do you believe in God?” I have to reply in the only honest way that I can: “I’m not sure, what do you mean by ‘God’?”

    7. Erich Says:

      Hi Steven

      Maybe you think too much. (I lived in Taiwan from 2002-2005 and the Taiwanese often said that to us Westerners.)

      To know what a spiritual practice is and to have one, you have to have faith in something other than your own powers of reasoning. I don’t have much faith in mine, nor in yours, even though you’re undeniably highly intelligent and coherent and lucid. You (Steven) do have faith – faith in your own reasoning.

      So you expect someone to define the undefinable – God – for you? How rational is that!

      I came across the following quote the other day: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” (Emo Philips)

      Is it perhaps possible that you are defining happiness right out of your life? If you are, in fact, defining it right into your life, I’m truly happy for you. It doesn’t work for me that way.

    8. sashen Says:

      Hmmm… fascinating reply, Erich.

      While I imagine you’ll once again accuse me of thinking to much or being too rational (and I don’t know what either of those mean), here we go:

      In the context you give, “faith in something other than reasoning”, I don’t know what you mean by “faith”. And when you say “other than reasoning,” what are you referring to? By merely saying “Not-this” you’re not defining some other thing.

      I don’t see reasoning as something that requires my faith, or lack thereof.

      Regarding “God”, I’m not asking someone to “define the undefinable.” That answer says that, for you, the definition of God is, at least, “something undefinable.” For some, they’re readily able to define it (I’ve heard, for example, “That which creates and sustains the universe.”). If I were asked about god by a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Zoroastrian, or a Jew, or a Baptist, or an Australian Aborigine, I know they’d each be asking me about something different. So, my request isn’t “rational”, it’s practical. Hell, if you say, “Is this BLUE?” and I were color blind, how would I know whether Yes or No is the answer.

      I don’t know what you mean by “defining happiness into (or out of) my life”… But you’re almost implying that because I’m asking these questions, I’m somehow not happy (or not as happy as I could be). Seems like you have no idea who I am (let alone of the research on twins that shows how “baseline happiness” is hugely determined by biological factors). That is, I don’t experience my asking these questions as having anything to do with my happiness. They neither make me happier nor unhappier.

      So, to back up to our original question (about “spiritual practice”), let me add this: I *may* do something that you, or someone else, considers a spiritual practice. I genuinely don’t know. Or, I may do something that one person calls a spiritual practice and another disagrees (for example, some would say that, since I don’t go to a church, or mosque, or synagogue, I don’t have a spiritual practice). All *I* know is that I don’t have a distinction in my mind for “spiritual” vs. “whatever the opposite of ‘spiritual’ is” (many would say “mundane,” I think, but I don’t know what you would say).

    9. sashen Says:

      (BTW, boy this would be SUCH an easier conversation to have in real-time 😉 )

    10. dave Says:

      On the topic of eating like our ancient ancestors did, there is also the little problem with the fact that they only lived about 30 years or so. The Buddhist thing? Meh, enlightenment ensclightenment. My nutshell is: There is no God, there is only God.

    11. Doug-(D200) Says:

      Heh Heh…. love the cherry picking argument. And Dave makes a good point about dying very young. Maybe not such a good diet after all?

      Oh, and Steven ….
      HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

      Have a great day!

    12. Christine Says:

      Hi Steven,
      If you don’t know anything to write about, write about Tantra, Channeling, and more of the stuff of which people believe that it is THE WAY to whatever they are thinking. Have fun!!! Love, Chr. http://wonderwalk.wordpress.com

    13. Vera Keil Says:

      Steven, I like your quirky, lighthearted take on all things guru. I’ll be back and hope you keep skewering the successholes of gurudom.

      For my darker and more critical view, hope you’ll check out http://tiptoethrutheminefield.blogspot.com/

    14. Priyatam Says:

      Reminds me of the Krishnamurtis – J (Jiddu) and UG (Uppaluri Gopala) – who shed light on the guru within each of us.

    15. Mike Says:

      I’m commenting here only because it is the latest post. Someone pointed me to your site and I like your approach in general. I do have one question for you, however. Why are you so down on belief in general?

      I get (and agree with) your take on many of these wacko systems such as “The Secret”. I am simply not clear on why you seem think that belief plays NO role in change work. It seems as if your proposition is that since you can’t compute the exact magnitude of the effect of belief, and since you can’t prove how belief might help or hinder the desired outcome, then belief is not useful. My take on this is that some belief is always present and attempting to use it only makes sense … so long as you take calculated action as well.

      In particular I question the conclusion you draw from the interviews you’ve cited. Sure, an athlete can say he was surprised he won, but from that statement I don’t conclude that he had no belief in himself. After all, he DID train and get himself to the contest and enter it and compete. He might not have had an overwhelming belief that he would win this contest at this time … but he DID believe that he could win such contests in general and he did believe it strongly enough to plan and take calculated actions to get himself to the podium.

      In any case, I do love your style and am happy you take the time to go after some of the crap that pervades society these days. I completely agree that “The Secret” is a dangerous meme and needs to be fought.

    16. sashen Says:

      Hi Mike,

      Welcome to the blog, such as it is.

      When evaluating any seeming cause for some effect, we have to look at a “causality matrix.” That is, we need to look at ALL the options related to that cause and that effect.

      So, if we think A > B (A is the cause of the effect B), we need to see how often that’s true. We also need to see how often A > C (i.e. the same cause leads to different effects).

      If we see that A > C as often as A > B, then whether we get effect B or C is random and, therefore, A does NOT cause B as we originally thought.

      Similarly, we need to see how often D > B (that is, some other cause leads to the effect we want). If D > B as often as A > B, it’s not as easy to say A > B (depending on the specifics of what A and D are, we may be able to say that A does NOT lead to B, but it was D all along).

      And, finally, we need to see how often D > C.

      This is called a causality matrix because you can draw in in a 2×2 box, a matrix with 4 squares, for clarity.

      So, all that said, I’m not so much “down” on belief as I’ve seen how often our belief that A > B either isn’t true or isn’t relevant.

      Certainly someone who engages in the practice required to become an athlete believes they have potential… but so do the thousands (or more) of others who never win. Tyson Gay believed he was the fastest man in the world (and everyone agreed), until some kid named Usain Bolt showed up out of nowhere… and Usain did NOT believe he was the fastest in the world.

      More telling, perhaps, are all the studies that have been done on kids and “self-esteem” which routinely show that high levels of belief in one’s skill an ability is often INVERSELY proportional to reality. That is, the kids who most think, “I can do this well,” do it less well.

      It’s the number of times that I’ve seen A > C and D > B that makes me completely uninterested in A > B, when A=belief.

      Oh, we also have the problem of hindsight bias.

      For example, my wife and I started a new business — http://www.InvisibleShoe.com. When we started it we thought, “We can make a few bucks with this.” The reality is that it’s 10x bigger than we ever thought it would be, and it could be 10,000x bigger. In hindsight, it’s easy to make up the theory that our belief had something to do with the success of the business. (in reality, there are SOOOOO many “D” factors, most of which were not in our control, that our belief is eclipsed by them.)

      But, what if the business failed miserably? Then what does that say about belief?

      What if instead of selling running sandals just as the boom in interest in barefoot running started to take off, we were opening a Middle-Eastern Travel Agency on Sept. 10, 2001 (and we REALLY believed it was going to be a success)?

      FWIW, though, I do think that there’s one belief that’s helpful. Perhaps, it’s the only one that’s actually necessary and maybe even accurate: “I might be able to ____.”

      We really don’t know if we can or can’t, but believing that we might be able to is, frankly, enough. After that, it’s just a question of checking to see if reality “agrees” with us.

    17. sashen Says:

      p.s. one of the most interesting things about having written the pieces on this blog is noticing that people tend to respond positively when I write something they agree with, but negatively when I then step on the toes of some other thought they have.

      I had someone who LOVED everything I wrote and went on and on about how brilliant, insightful, etc. all this was… until I criticized homeopathy, which this person adamantly believed in.

      Suddenly, I was no longer brilliant or insightful, but arrogant and harmful.

      The joke there is that we could have tested to see whether I was right or not — I could have randomly substituted this person’s favorite homeopathic remedy with Folger’s crystals (or, more likely, sugar pills)… if this person still got results, then homeopathy is a placebo, my criticism was accurate… and they STILL wouldn’t like me any longer 😉

    18. Mike Says:

      Hi Stephen, and thanks for your comprehensive response.

      First of all, please don’t take from my question that you have stepped on my toes or that I think you are a total wacko. I actually think you are quite lucid in your presentation and are providing a valuable perspective on some of the nuttier ideas out there today. I just read your take on quantum physic being used to justify … well, just about anything. I have to say that you are the ONLY person I have read who addressed this. I remember the first time I heard Depok Chopra oozing on and on for some PBS money grubbing event thinking “What the HELL has quantum physics to do with how I live my life?” Of course, by now it has become a social meme and everyone now parrots back stuff that they KNOW is true because they have heard perverse descriptions of quantum causality reversal and such like. Oh, my brain hurts. But thanks for addressing that silliness here. You ought to get some kind of public service award … perhaps some new underwear?

      If you don’t mind I’m going to clip your response and interleave my thoughts so I can keep track of what I’m responding to.

      >>> Welcome to the blog, such as it is. <<>> When evaluating any seeming cause for some effect, we have to look at a “causality matrix.” That is, we need to look at ALL the options related to that cause and that effect. <<>> So, if we think A > B (A is the cause of the effect B), we need to see how often that’s true. We also need to see how often A > C (i.e. the same cause leads to different effects).

      If we see that A > C as often as A > B, then whether we get effect B or C is random and, therefore, A does NOT cause B as we originally thought.

      Similarly, we need to see how often D > B (that is, some other cause leads to the effect we want). If D > B as often as A > B, it’s not as easy to say A > B (depending on the specifics of what A and D are, we may be able to say that A does NOT lead to B, but it was D all along).

      And, finally, we need to see how often D > C.

      This is called a causality matrix because you can draw in in a 2×2 box, a matrix with 4 squares, for clarity.

      So, all that said, I’m not so much “down” on belief as I’ve seen how often our belief that A > B either isn’t true or isn’t relevant. <<>> Certainly someone who engages in the practice required to become an athlete believes they have potential… but so do the thousands (or more) of others who never win. Tyson Gay believed he was the fastest man in the world (and everyone agreed), until some kid named Usain Bolt showed up out of nowhere… and Usain did NOT believe he was the fastest in the world. <<>> More telling, perhaps, are all the studies that have been done on kids and “self-esteem” which routinely show that high levels of belief in one’s skill an ability is often INVERSELY proportional to reality. That is, the kids who most think, “I can do this well,” do it less well. <<>> It’s the number of times that I’ve seen A > C and D > B that makes me completely uninterested in A > B, when A=belief. <<>> Oh, we also have the problem of hindsight bias.

      For example, my wife and I started a new business — http://www.InvisibleShoe.com. When we started it we thought, “We can make a few bucks with this.” The reality is that it’s 10x bigger than we ever thought it would be, and it could be 10,000x bigger. In hindsight, it’s easy to make up the theory that our belief had something to do with the success of the business. (in reality, there are SOOOOO many “D” factors, most of which were not in our control, that our belief is eclipsed by them.) <<>> But, what if the business failed miserably? Then what does that say about belief? <<>> What if instead of selling running sandals just as the boom in interest in barefoot running started to take off, we were opening a Middle-Eastern Travel Agency on Sept. 10, 2001 (and we REALLY believed it was going to be a success)? <<>> FWIW, though, I do think that there’s one belief that’s helpful. Perhaps, it’s the only one that’s actually necessary and maybe even accurate: “I might be able to ____.”

      We really don’t know if we can or can’t, but believing that we might be able to is, frankly, enough. After that, it’s just a question of checking to see if reality “agrees” with us. <<>> p.s. one of the most interesting things about having written the pieces on this blog is noticing that people tend to respond positively when I write something they agree with, but negatively when I then step on the toes of some other thought they have. <<>> I had someone who LOVED everything I wrote and went on and on about how brilliant, insightful, etc. all this was… until I criticized homeopathy, which this person adamantly believed in.

      Suddenly, I was no longer brilliant or insightful, but arrogant and harmful.

      The joke there is that we could have tested to see whether I was right or not — I could have randomly substituted this person’s favorite homeopathic remedy with Folger’s crystals (or, more likely, sugar pills)… if this person still got results, then homeopathy is a placebo, my criticism was accurate… and they STILL wouldn’t like me any longer 😉 <<<

      I think the best popular example of this is the series “South Park”. People laugh and laugh at it. But those guys make a religion of attacking EVERYONE’S sacred cow so sooner or later they go off in a snit when their favorite whatever is attacked. (Remember that whole deal about Tom Cruise in the closet? Even some of the actors quit because Scientology was off limits for them. ROTF 😉

      Thanks again for the chatter. Now I need to get back to reading your old posts. Lots-o-fun.

    19. Mike Says:

      Oooops, I guess my attempt at marking off sections did not work with this system. Sorry about that. I did not mean to give you a headache. ;-(

    20. sashen Says:

      Hey, Mike.

      Oh, I took you as neither a wacko nor someone whose toes were stepped on 😉

      And, yeah, that was tough to find your comments… in fact, I can’t see any of the embedded comments. Want to try again?

      And, yes, South Park is BRILLIANT (and I could use new underwear).

      -S

    21. Mike Says:

      Holy crap, the software here edits for content. I guess it must not have liked what I had to say. OY, now it is not an editing job but an entire rewrite. Let us see what surprises the software has in store for me now 😉

      ==========
      First of all, please don’t take from my question that you have stepped on my toes or that I think you are a total wacko. I actually think you are quite lucid in your presentation and are providing a valuable perspective on some of the nuttier ideas out there today. I just read your take on quantum physic being used to justify … well, just about anything. I have to say that you are the ONLY person I have read who addressed this. I remember the first time I heard Depok Chopra oozing on and on for some PBS money grubbing event thinking “What the HELL has quantum physics to do with how I live my life?” Of course, by now it has become a social meme and everyone now parrots back stuff that they KNOW is true because they have heard perverse descriptions of quantum causality reversal and such like. Oh, my brain hurts. But thanks for addressing that silliness here. You ought to get some kind of public service award … perhaps some new underwear?

      If you don’t mind I’m going to clip your response and interleave my thoughts so I can keep track of what I’m responding to.

      +++++
      Welcome to the blog, such as it is.
      +++++

      Ah, thanks so much. I’m quite impressed both by the range of topics you cover and your writing style. It makes me laugh out loud.

      +++++
      When evaluating any seeming cause for some effect, we have to look at a “causality matrix.” That is, we need to look at ALL the options related to that cause and that effect.
      +++++

      I think it is this premise that gives me some trouble. I think there is a difference between presenting a paper for publication to “Science” and deciding if some idea you just heard is worth a shot. IOW, the use of the scientific method is not always a sensible exercise. That said, I respect that to take a position on something and tell others that Theory X is nutty, does take some reasoning.

      +++++
      So, if we think A > B (A is the cause of the effect B), we need to see how often that’s true. We also need to see how often A > C (i.e. the same cause leads to different effects).

      If we see that A > C as often as A > B, then whether we get effect B or C is random and, therefore, A does NOT cause B as we originally thought.

      Similarly, we need to see how often D > B (that is, some other cause leads to the effect we want). If D > B as often as A > B, it’s not as easy to say A > B (depending on the specifics of what A and D are, we may be able to say that A does NOT lead to B, but it was D all along).

      And, finally, we need to see how often D > C.

      This is called a causality matrix because you can draw in in a 2×2 box, a matrix with 4 squares, for clarity.

      So, all that said, I’m not so much “down” on belief as I’ve seen how often our belief that A > B either isn’t true or isn’t relevant.
      +++++

      I agree with you 100%. And I’ll point out that there are lots of things that I do that I can’t prove will produce the result I’d like … yet I do them for “economic” reasons. (Basically I mean that the cost of doing them is small in comparison to the value of the possible outcome and the chance of a costly error is small in comparison to the value of the possible gain. A good example of this is exercise. No one can prove that exercise does much good. It is probably true that genetic inheritance swamps almost any health oriented efforts you can engage in. But it does not “cost” a lot to exercise and the chance of making your health worse is fairly small and it COULD help. OTOH, my early years spent running long distances has RUINED my knees and it now kills me to walk down stairs. And, as another example, my ex- recently died of breast cancer at the age of 50. For her whole life she ate only fresh food and exercised at least an hour each morning. Her last words to me were “Hell, I watched what I ate, exercised religiously and now this … what sense does it all make?” So …)

      But the position I take, “What does it hurt?” does not apply to raving lunacy. IOW, I don’t believe in a god, “just in case” as one philosopher shamelessly concluded. When an idea is insane, it is simply insane and ANY effort is too much effort.

      +++++
      Certainly someone who engages in the practice required to become an athlete believes they have potential… but so do the thousands (or more) of others who never win. Tyson Gay believed he was the fastest man in the world (and everyone agreed), until some kid named Usain Bolt showed up out of nowhere… and Usain did NOT believe he was the fastest in the world.
      +++++

      I agree there as well. Confidence will not win the game. But it WILL get you to the stadium. So I’m not saying that belief is the controlling factor, only that without belief you probably will never get into the game.

      +++++
      More telling, perhaps, are all the studies that have been done on kids and “self-esteem” which routinely show that high levels of belief in one’s skill an ability is often INVERSELY proportional to reality. That is, the kids who most think, “I can do this well,” do it less well.
      +++++

      That is a tricky proposition, to be sure. But turning it around this way seems to make sense to me: “If the above is true, does it follow that one should strive to believe the opposite of what one wants?” I don’t think that follows. At best I think it is one of those things that shows us the folly of youth. IOW, as we mature, we come to know ourselves and the world better and are better able to operate successfully in it. We know that children have very active imaginations. It is necessarily for them to learn the way the world works. If we concluded that since most kids imagine they can fly like superman that imagination is BAD, I would argue that we would be making a big error. OTOH, I’d watch my kid if he got near a second story window wearing a towel around his neck.

      +++++
      It’s the number of times that I’ve seen A > C and D > B that makes me completely uninterested in A > B, when A=belief.
      +++++

      I can see why you came to that conclusion, but for me, at least, it does not compute… because I don’t see “belief” CAUSING some outcome … I see it as one component. IOW, I don’t agree with some comments I’ve seen here that the “gurus” who preach believing in yourself are wrong. If the only thing you hear is those words and you don’t hear the words “now get out and take some action to make that belief come true”, I think that you are missing part of the message. (Of course, as with “The Secret” if the message really IS that you don’t need to take any action, it makes no sense.)

      Let me construct an example from the reverse perspective. You have some outcome or goal you desire. (Let’s take one of those you proposed elsewhere, getting laid, or getting lots of bucks, or finding transcendental glee.)

      Working from the end. Either you get the outcome or not. Now I realize we could debate even that, but for a moment let’s just assume that you know if you’ve gotten laid or not 😉

      Backing up to the previous step … either you took action to get your outcome, or did not. (Either you went out looking for a fine lady or simply waited at home for a desperate Domino’s delivery person of the correct sex and age range.) Now when I am deciding what I am going to do, I look at those two possibilities and choose the first. Why? Because if the world operates according to new age woo-woo, then taking action will not make any difference, but if it does not, then it is probably my best bet. IOW, it is the “what could it hurt” philosophy.

      If I’ve decided that I need to take action, then I need some motivation to do so. (Again, we could argue what motivation is and how it works, IF it works, but my position is that you need SOMETHING to get you out of bed and into the bars to meet these gals if that is your plan. Hell, even if you plan to get rich winning the lottery, you have to have enough motivation to go to the local 7-11 and buy a lottery ticket.)

      Backing up to the previous step: in order to get motivation you need to believe that what you are going to do will work … not CAN work, but WILL work, at least in the best of all possible worlds in your imagination. I don’t know about the rest of humanity, but I know damn well that I can not summon the motivation to get down to the 7-11 to buy a lottery ticket, because I know enough math to know that it will NOT work. I studied the math and I BELIEVE that the math is true. I BELIEVE that the cost of winning the lottery will always be more than the payout. With that belief I do not buy lottery tickets and so I will never be a lottery winner. (I will however be a winner of all of the $1 bills I did not pay to buy wasted lottery tickets.) However, I also BELIEVE that if I want to get lai… errrr, find my soul mate … I MUST at least introduce myself to members of the target sexual persuasion. That belief gives me the motivation to slather on the Old Spice and sashay on down to the … wherever.

      Backing up one further step, though it is not really part of what we have been discussing, in order to have belief, I need some evidence. I need to have seen others do it. I need to have a math formula I can turn to. I need SOMETHING I can hang my hat on to say to myself: “I can DO this … I KNOW I can.” Now am I saying anything universal about the causal effect of belief … no, I’m just saying how I do it. And I’m saying what I would advise others to do because of the logic I gave. I would never tell some young lad or lass to pray to get laid. Nor burn the correctly colored candle. Nor make a wish under a star. But I WOULD tell them to slather on the Old Spice (or Jean Nate or, if you are into geeks, perhaps Ode d’Big Mac)

      So where does that leave us? What advice would you give the young lad or lass? Pray or sashay?

      +++++
      Oh, we also have the problem of hindsight bias.

      For example, my wife and I started a new business — http://www.InvisibleShoe.com. When we started it we thought, “We can make a few bucks with this.” The reality is that it’s 10x bigger than we ever thought it would be, and it could be 10,000x bigger. In hindsight, it’s easy to make up the theory that our belief had something to do with the success of the business. (in reality, there are SOOOOO many “D” factors, most of which were not in our control, that our belief is eclipsed by them.)
      +++++

      I absolutely agree. BUT, if you did not believe it would take off, would you have started it? Surely it is not logical to say your belief made it what it was, but it made it possible, at least … no?

      +++++
      But, what if the business failed miserably? Then what does that say about belief?
      +++++

      It suggests that belief is a necessary but not sufficient condition and your belief was not the only component in the equation and one of the others caused it to fail.

      +++++
      What if instead of selling running sandals just as the boom in interest in barefoot running started to take off, we were opening a Middle-Eastern Travel Agency on Sept. 10, 2001 (and we REALLY believed it was going to be a success)?
      +++++

      Again, I’m not saying that belief is a sufficient condition for success … only that it is one of the necessary ones … at least enough of it to get you to start the business. I mean, I can imagine some Emo kid starting a business, skulking around in a black cloud, and the business STILL succeeding … of course, that would not be one of your more typical cases.

      +++++
      FWIW, though, I do think that there’s one belief that’s helpful. Perhaps, it’s the only one that’s actually necessary and maybe even accurate: “I might be able to ____.”

      We really don’t know if we can or can’t, but believing that we might be able to is, frankly, enough. After that, it’s just a question of checking to see if reality “agrees” with us.
      +++++

      Looks like we might be in agreement after all. My formulation is “I believe there is a good enough chance to succeed in this that I am willing to get out there and expend the effort to take action.” After all, it is the action that produces the result. IOW, we don’t KNOW that we can or can’t, but we need to BELIEVE that we can or we won’t try. I know I probably CAN start a successful business, but I do not BELIEVE it and so I’m not motivated to do so … so I don’t bother.

      +++++
      p.s. one of the most interesting things about having written the pieces on this blog is noticing that people tend to respond positively when I write something they agree with, but negatively when I then step on the toes of some other thought they have.
      +++++

      Pretty much the way it goes, yeah?

      +++++
      I had someone who LOVED everything I wrote and went on and on about how brilliant, insightful, etc. all this was… until I criticized homeopathy, which this person adamantly believed in.

      Suddenly, I was no longer brilliant or insightful, but arrogant and harmful.

      The joke there is that we could have tested to see whether I was right or not — I could have randomly substituted this person’s favorite homeopathic remedy with Folger’s crystals (or, more likely, sugar pills)… if this person still got results, then homeopathy is a placebo, my criticism was accurate… and they STILL wouldn’t like me any longer 😉
      +++++

      I think the best popular example of this is the series “South Park”. People laugh and laugh at it. But those guys make a religion of attacking EVERYONE’S sacred cow so sooner or later the ones laughing at one episode y go off in a snit when their favorite whatever is attacked. (Remember that whole deal about Tom Cruise in the closet? Even some of the actors quit because Scientology was off limits for them. ROTF 😉

      Thanks again for the chatter. Now I need to get back to reading your old posts. Lots-o-fun.

      (AH, there, it’s done. Thanks to my browser’s back button I was able to get back to the page where I created this and it was still there to edit … miserable software 😉

      Oh, and I’ll get out to shop for that underwear this afternoon 😉

    22. sashen Says:

      Your ability to craft a long and comprehensive response greatly exceeds my ability to create one to match it 😉

      I will, though point out two things:

      1) You correctly noticed that there’s a tendency for people to say, “OH, well if you don’t believe X, then you MUST believe not-X”, which is simply not true.

      2) The picture you paint is similar to what I said about having the belief, “It may work” (or whatever I said 😉 )… it doesn’t take much of a thought to motivate some action… BUT, the problem with that reasoning is that it assumes the outcome must come as a result of MY action. In fact there are many outcomes, including getting laid, that can occur without me being the initiator of some action.

      And, similarly, your hypothetical leaves out the possibility that by NOT engaging in some action, some OTHER outcome will occur, which may, in fact, be preferable.

      It’s easy to reverse-engineer a theory from the position of an already-occured event. But life doesn’t work in reverse.

      Oh, one more… clearly, in order to start our new business, my wife and I did NOT think “Well, this will never work and is stupid.” The thought was more like, “This might be interesting and the risk is low, so let’s see.” And that is more of a thought about probability than a belief about outcomes. So, I’d argue that belief wasn’t required (and would, no doubt, have been inaccurate, regardless of its content).

      Anyway, thanks for the provocative chat.

      Enjoy! 😉

    23. Mike Says:

      Hey Stephen,

      =====
      Your ability to craft a long and comprehensive response greatly exceeds my ability to create one to match it 😉
      =====

      Yeah, I can be irritatingly wordy at time. In this case, the subject is tricky so I thought it necessary to be … errrr … comprehensive 😉

      =====
      I will, though point out two things:

      1) You correctly noticed that there’s a tendency for people to say, “OH, well if you don’t believe X, then you MUST believe not-X”, which is simply not true.
      =====

      Yeah, that is an irritating tendency on the part of some. They seem to see the world in such simplistic terms.

      =====
      2) The picture you paint is similar to what I said about having the belief, “It may work” (or whatever I said 😉 )… it doesn’t take much of a thought to motivate some action… BUT, the problem with that reasoning is that it assumes the outcome must come as a result of MY action. In fact there are many outcomes, including getting laid, that can occur without me being the initiator of some action.
      =====

      Actually, I assume that YOUR action is the only thing you have control over. If the outcome is the result of a negotiate settlement between Zeus and Apollo, nothing you do matters anyway. So you can subscribe to the Zeus/Apollo theory and wait for life to happen or subscribe (correctly on incorrectly) to the theory that personal action is what works and do something. If the former is right, you’ll win no matter what. If the latter, you have some chance of winning.

      What I see here is that you are taking the position of an outside disinterested observer conducting a scientific experiment. The reality is that it is one person trying to get some particular outcome who is stuck in his own world of “information” and belief and motivation. What he is trying to do is find SOME way … ANY way … of getting his outcome. He is not concerned about WHAT causes his success … so long as he gets it. If he gets laid, he may or may not reflect on how it came about … and he may be wildly wrong in his analysis if he does. And so he may totally fail in his next attempt using his new theory. That’s life, yeah? I mean, he might conclude that it was his choice to buy some new after shave that did it but what really happened is that some similarly motivated person of the opposite sexual persuasion who was on the prowl got him in her sights.

      You are absolutely right in saying that your own action might not be the cause of the outcome you get. The problem is that we all need to decide what we are going to do (or not do) to get our outcomes or we simply stagnate and wait for our lotto number to hit (but even that is taking some action). All I’m arguing is that getting too much into the possible causation can lead to paralysis … because I don’t believe it is POSSIBLE to know causality to any degree of certainty. I can “feel” that going out running every morning is going to “cause” me to live long and prosper, until, like Jim Fixx, I drop dead in mid run. Life just works that way.

      =====
      And, similarly, your hypothetical leaves out the possibility that by NOT engaging in some action, some OTHER outcome will occur, which may, in fact, be preferable.
      =====

      Yes, it does. I feel that I’m overlooking some well known term for what is going on here but I just can’t think of it now. Your argument seems to require of us that we know all possible outcomes and exact causality before taking any action … lest we make a mistake. “Maybe if I set fire to my house I’ll meet a fireman who is the man of my dreams.” O.K. that is technically possible, but you’ll be writing him from prison. Clearly, since it is not possible to know every possibility and it’s probability, the only alternative would be to take no action at all and wait for life to take its course. I doubt that you live your life that way … I know I don’t.

      =====
      It’s easy to reverse-engineer a theory from the position of an already-occured event. But life doesn’t work in reverse.
      =====

      I agree, but what I intended was to show the kind of thinking that might be done in order to analyze all possibilities. In reality, I don’t believe people mostly think that way. It is more common that they do what they have done before, in other similar cases and hope for the best.

      =====
      Oh, one more… clearly, in order to start our new business, my wife and I did NOT think “Well, this will never work and is stupid.” The thought was more like, “This might be interesting and the risk is low, so let’s see.” And that is more of a thought about probability than a belief about outcomes. So, I’d argue that belief wasn’t required (and would, no doubt, have been inaccurate, regardless of its content).
      =====

      I’ll have to leave that one because I can’t argue with how you remember your thought process. I can only report my own thought process and mine is one of belief that I WILL succeed. It might be a pretty weak belief, and you might call it only a probability that I’d succeed, but internally I perceive it as a belief, and since it is my perception that generates the motivation, it is how I get things done.

      =====
      Anyway, thanks for the provocative chat.
      =====

      No! Thank you. 😉 I don’t often run across someone who does some serious thinking about serious issues. Agree or not, it is the thinking about it that is important. I just crossed swords with some people over the new Arizona law allowing … requiring … police to stop anyone looking Latino and demand “papers” to prove citizenship. You’d think that even the least educated in this country would have read enough history to realize where that has lead before and why it is a bad idea. But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. LOL 😉 “Yeah, but we could have prevented 9-11 by pulling Arabs out of line at the airport. Do you think their RIGHTS are worth more than AMERICAN lives?” I get so tired of this. Don’t you?

      Again, thanks so much for this site. Very nicely done.

    24. sashen Says:

      Hey, Mike.

      The difference in our thinking is, in part, the weight to which you’re giving voluntary actions in the attainment of specific results. I’m saying that the number of factors that lead to getting a result is often so vast (especially for something more complex, like starting a business), that ANY belief is, at best, a tiny factor.

      More than that, I’m suggesting that believing in one’s efficacy is not only usually mistaken, but, more, it’s irrelevant. The number of times we’ve believed in our efficacy and found that our actions do not lead to results is much greater than the times they do. BUT, thanks to the magic of evolutionary psychology, we don’t remember the “misses” and we over-emphasize the “hits.” And then we use this misremembered data to form beliefs about what’s need to get what we want in the future (including believing that we need certain beliefs).

      Again, the only belief necessary is the one it takes to get you off the couch, and that doesn’t need to be a “positive” belief like “I think I can,” but one as simple as “It may work.” And that thought could barely be classified as a belief.

      BTW, in my town (Boulder), if some cop pulled someone over and asked to see their papers, the odds are the cop would see what that person just bought at the medical marijuana dispensary.

    25. Mike Says:

      Hey Stephen, I agree about the evolutionary psychology thing. When I turn my thinking in that direction, I find that a lot of our logical fallacies have been productive in our evolution. I think you might have given the example of the “Post Hoc” fallacy … clearly it is a great survival shortcut. While the intellectual was arguing that the movement in the grass could only be the wind, his stupider brother, believing that moving grass causes tigers was on the run … and while simply out of breath 9 our of 10 times, survived while his intellectual friend was a tiger snack on the 10th. It might be a fun exercise to run through a list of the most common fallacies and imagine how they could be helpful to the “simple folk”. Or maybe not … I’m busy searching for my last can of Pringles.

      OTOH, I’m trying to imagine the functional alternative to believing that your actions will lead to success. To me it seems as if, even though you can show logically that it can’t be proven, it is the only approach that stands a chance of working, in the long run.

      Boulder: sounds like a real party town. Lately, I’m starting to think that making grass legal is the way to go. I think I’d be all for a largely spaced out population. They’d never get off the couch to vote and we might be much better off. LOL 😉 Just think, they could get high, stimulate the economy … at least the Pringles sector … and watch Oprah, feeling that their ship will come in because they BELIEVE. And then SHE would get richer and start a new church. With no one out there actually DOING anything, there will be so many more opportunities for those who get up off their asses and take some action … so long as we do something connected with Pringles manufacturing. What’s not to like?

    26. sashen Says:

      I’m tellin’ you, Mike, the “functional alternative” is simply knowing that it may happen or it may not, and doing things that seem compelling/fun.

      Or, do things based on the fantasy that you can control the world and the outcome you desire will, in fact, lead to happiness… knowing that you may be totally full of crap and, either, you won’t get to the goal, or it won’t give you what you hoped… and then, c’est la vie.

      And, while I’ve mentioned evolutionary psych and our various cognitive biases on here quite a bit, I haven’t spelled them all out, one by one, because others have already done a more comprehensive job of it than my divergent brain would ever do 😉

    27. Mike Says:

      O.K. Stephen, I really don’t want to beat a dead horse here. If we are talking past each other here then it would be good to resolve the issue if possible. But if not, I’ll let it go.

      =====
      I’m tellin’ you, Mike, the “functional alternative” is simply knowing that it may happen or it may not, and doing things that seem compelling/fun.
      =====

      So if I want to get laid I should play solitare on my computer because that seems compelling/fun? I guess the implication is that life is random so desires are pointless because action is futile? But that can’t be your position because in other posts (particularly ones going after LOA) you advocate for taking action. But WHAT action? Random action?

      =====
      Or, do things based on the fantasy that you can control the world and the outcome you desire will, in fact, lead to happiness… knowing that you may be totally full of crap and, either, you won’t get to the goal, or it won’t give you what you hoped… and then, c’est la vie.
      =====

      Do you see the choice as either compete certainty that you will get exactly what you desire if you take the planned action or you want or complete ignorance of the outcome? You talk about probability. Don’t you agree that if you want to get laid, you can gather information (ask others how they did it) formulate a plan, and then assess the probability of success, as best you can, then take action, see how well you are doing, and adjust the plan? Are the only alternatives wishing/praying/hoping or giving up?

      Likewise, of course we can’t know how we will evaluate the outcome when we get it. Of course we might find out that being rich really sucks. Or getting laid results in an STD. Life does not come with a written guarantee.

      I’m just trying to understand your position. I don’t wish to argue for the sake of arguing. So if you feel you have said it all, feel free to do something more fun than answer a query that you feel you have answered adequately elsewhere. As for me, I’m still enjoying slogging through your backlog here. I’m happy enough to find a kindred soul who can’t stomach Oprah … and who was a fellow ham radio operator as a kid. (I really hated that the TVs of the day were so … loose. There was no way you could transmit without coming through every TV in the neighborhood. Sure, the FCC was on YOUR side, but the villagers still came with torches and pitchforks. I’m sure you’ve been there 😉

      O.K. Gotta run now … The View is on.

    28. sashen Says:

      Who was on The View?!

      I’m gonna drop it, if for no other reason than that:

      a) We’re really not that far apart, and;

      b) This would be WAY easier, and more fun, in real-time, and;

      c) Lists work better with 3 items




     

     

     

     

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