My Thoughts: Ideas and Evidence

a list of idea-tools that I may/may not use depending on if they turn out to be useful or true


IDEAS AS TOOLS. Ideas are tools for the mind to interact with the world. They should be treated as methods. They should not be just acquired for their own sake or stuck to for their own sake. If a tool stops working, change it for another one that does. Have a good selection of flexible tools that are easily carried and to use, but bare in mind that you may need others that you don’t have to hand or even know about. They may seem contradictory tools, some logical, some intuitive. But don’t worry about the inconsistency, it may be impossible to resolve. What you can more easily do is evaluate if they work.


DOES IT WORK? IDEAS AS METHODS NOT OBJECTIVES. Do not ask me if it is right or wrong, ask me does it work or not? What are the consequences? Many ideas are shown to be wrong because they just fail, cause harm, backfire or change into something else. I want to see the evidence that shows that the idea works, not to be told that it is the truth despite what the evidence might be to the contrary. However, there are also ideas that are useful even thought they are not true. (See Metaphor and Objectivity)


THE NATURAL FALLACY. It’s natural therefore it is ipso facto good/bad. This should obviously be seen as a fallacy. There are herbs that heal and herbs that harm. The same statements can be applied to a sacred text, a particular teacher, a particular group. (LINK to be added) None are unquestionably good/bad. The fallacy is a simplistic, absolute view which has consequences. It lacks subtlety and discernment. It takes no account of circumstances or individuals. By opting for it, one is deciding not to think, or question. It is a dangerous way to be for oneself, and others, because it doesn’t work, no matter how hard the proponents of it try. Suffering is the result. (LINK to added to Human Universals research)


‘THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY’. “The map is not the territory. The menu is not the meal.” Herbert Marshall McLuhan. The description is not the thing itself. The signifier is not the signified (Semiotics). The method is not the aim. The bow is not the target. The sacred book is not the sacred. The deity is not the divine. Our beliefs are not what is, just what we think is. The navigational aid is not the ocean. The sat-nav is not the road network. Saying ‘A’ is the same as ‘B’ is wrong. ‘A’ may be like ‘B’. ‘A’ is a way of describing ‘B’. When our tower (See Towers Of Spiritual Practice), meme, metaphor, belief, is too focused on, it gets in the way of what is actually there. (See First Sight And Third Thoughts).


IDOLS BLOCK THE VIEW. One can become so attached to the method/idea, that it fills ones eyes so much that one cannot see beyond it to where it points, or sometimes anything else.


VIRTUAL REALITY, THE TOO PERFECT MIRROR. The exactness of computer created plans, models and simulations is deceptive. They are perfectly rendered, but it does not mean that they are perfect reflections of reality at all. This precision is the presentation, not the substance of the subject.


IDEAS WILL ALWAYS HAVE ERRORS. Whether expressed as map, metaphor, geometry or sound. As these are not the thing they represent, part of their connotations will not match that which is being represented. But that is because they are not the thing themselves, so they cannot be without error.


SMALLER AND OF OUR OWN DEVISING. (Idea from“The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams) Reality is often too messy and complex for most of us, so we get by with ad-hoc rules that kind of work, but these can become fixed, becoming part of our opinions part of our self-identity. And so we end up living in something smaller and of our own devising; less diverse, less contradictory, less confusing, less wonderful and just plain less full of life itself. To get out of this trap one needs to stand back, to see it as devised and look beyond its limited applications. In the worst cases this smaller devised model of life is used to kill life by forcing it to fit into this tiny box. Simplify your life by giving it space, uncluttered (LINK to how to live in modern world), don’t try and force the world to be simpler, it isn’t.


VISICA PISCIS. The overlap of two circles creates a lens shaped area that is part of both, linked and distinct. Our consciousness is the intersection of two worlds. The inner mind world, and the outer physical world. The I/eye is here in the moment. That which observers, questions and decides. The interfaces between are both nature and nurture. The idea tools help us understand what is behind us (mind), and what is before us (world). But it is not the world. We must not mistake the model/interface for the world. It is helpful, but it will be flawed. (LINK to be added about over patterning.) We must not mistake the model/interface with our mind/sub-conscious/innate nature. We must not mistake ourselves with the models/interface. The I should not be boxed into an Identity of ideas. The I needs to be what it is, stood back from it, and so freed to be, freed to decide consciously.


THERE ARE NO PANACEAS. No one size fits all universal tool/solution/idea. Each is only a representation of a way of relating to an aspect of reality and not the thing itself.


DISCERNMENT OVER RULES, RULES. No book of rules can describe all possible circumstances, so interpretation is obviously required. However choices have to be made when rules clash in the complexity of the world. So discernment over rules, rules!


THE PERSONAL IS NOT THE UNIVERSAL. For most people ‘I THINK this film is boring’, becomes, ‘this film IS boring’. Opinion is stated as fact. These two statements are so close and yet to far part in meaning. This easy confusion of the two leads to great problems. And the media encourages muddle. One man’s meat is another man’s poison (particularly if they are a vegetarian or allergic). Don’t make a universal virtue out of what is just your own personal inclinations. You are not the universe. It is bigger and more diverse than anyone person or group.


I AM NOT AN IDENTITY. I do not say ‘I am a…’. I say ‘I do…’. This is not stubborn pedantry. The activities I do express ideas, these to me are tools and not what I am. Thus I remain critical of them. If I remain distanced. My centre is empty. I am nothing. I am the workbench. I bring these tools to it. But I am not the tools. As I don’t identify with them I can make better use of them. ‘I am not a hammer, I use the hammer. The hammer is not the putting in of the nails.’ ‘I am not the field I stand in. I am not the job. I am not the group.’ They reflect upon me as sunlight does. They illuminate, but I am not the source of the light. I may use tools from a group but I do so selectively, therefore I am not signed-up to that group. I am not paganism, I do some pagan things. Take on the role, but you are not the role. If you were not that thing before, and could be not that thing in the future, then you and it are distinct. ‘I am not Wiccan. I do some things Wiccan. If I say I am Wiccan then implies that what I do is Wicca. But it is me who does what may or may not be defined as Wicca, without certification by an authority that everytime it is ‘properly’ Wicca.’


“PEOPLE ARE VERBS NOT NOUNS.” Stephen Fry wrote,Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you will inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.” (Radio Times 24-30 July 2010 p13)


I AM NOT MY IDEAS. Ideas are not attached to you. If you see them as part of you it is more difficult to put them down and pick up a more appropriate one. You’re stuck with it. I am not various identities, memberships or ideas. The I is the conscious decision making. Discernment and conscious choice = being in the present.


I AM NOT MY CIRCUMSTANCES, I AM MY ABILITIES. (The CV is not the person. This arose from a conversation with Francis Gallop) I am not my job, where I live, who I know etc. I am not where I am; I am not the sofa, the desk, the iPOD, the bus stop, the rain coat, the pair of socks, the favourite book, etc. I am my abilities. A pilot is still a pilot even when not in a plane. I am one who makes choices, using my abilities from the circumstances I am currently in to move to new circumstances. This is a decision I am making, not to define myself by labels.


PRIDE IN SOMETHING YOU ARE OR PRIDE IN SOMETHING YOU HAVE DONE? Pride in circumstances, proud of being tall, rich, working class or British, is not an achievement, is it? Where you are is not an achievement to be smug about. It is the effort that was needed to get there (or stay there) that is the achievement. Its no achievement being born somewhere.


PROJECTIONS ON TO THE WORLD. We all place fear, pride and love somewhere outside of ourselves? Is the place where we put our identity also where we put our pride? Is it also our blind spot? Is it that thing that we most hang on to beyond the point where we should let go?


SO WHAT AM I? I am that which decides at this point of intersection of preferences from instinct and reason. I decide based on where I have been (mind) and what is before me (world) and where I think I want to be. I make notes and think as I proceed through life, reflecting on my actions and their consequences.


I AM NOT A ‘CAVER’, I AM JUST CURRENTLY IN A CAVE. Having a major activity in one’s life, and building much of your social life and activity around it gives a sense of clearly defined place and identity. But is it a good thing? Rooted, but is it too mono-cultural? A clear sense of place, but does it allow for growth or box you in, the peer pressure holding you back from change? Is the alternative to acknowledge the multiple identities, or to throw away the idea of identities entirely, and be free to do or do not, without concern for conformity?


WHO IS TOP, THE SOCIAL STRUCTURES OR THE PEOPLE WITHIN THEM? The human beings are more important than the groups, structures, institutions, businesses or religions that they are in. Though day to day you may serve the structure, its ultimate purpose should be to serve those within the structure. Those within the structure should not be reduced merely to servitor components of the structure. For example, we are always told we must do what is ‘good for the economy’ because it gives us what we need, but what happens when servicing the economy takes away what we need? There were and are very dynamic economies based on slavery and inequality.


SOCIAL STRUCTURES ARE BOXES. Too often we only want to hear views that agree with our own, and only entertaining different opinions or view as an excuse for an enjoyable good old rant, often with others joining in. It is nice. Social grooming is nice. It is confirming, reassuring and accepting. But is it confirming us in our existing prejudices, stopping us from changing and growing by stopping us questioning and thinking?


THE NEWS. “The superficial explaining to the shallow” (Source?) Try testing the news headlines. If the headline sounds convincing in a childish playground tone of voice then that is precisely the level of the reporting.


MOANING ABOUT THE STATE OF THE WORLD GETS YOU IN A STATE. Most people’s moaning about the state of the world is merely social grooming, but it is slowly corrosive, slowly clouding and prejudicing ones view of the world as it is. The effect is even worse if the content of the moan is actually offensive.


YOU CAN’T FIX EVERYTHING. You don’t need to try and fix every wrong statement, fact or behaviour; in a person, on the web, or in the media. There will always be errors in the world. Accept it or have a life full or irritation. Instead put your effects into what really matters and really makes a difference to the world. The exact location of apostrophes is not one of them.


FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION & FREEDOM FROM PERSECUTION. Groups that feel themselves to be in a weak position often silence internal criticism by internal individuals for the protection of the whole group. And thus internalise the external oppression? This is identifying all persons and acts with all those in the group, and so criticism cannot be allowed. This is not good for the health of the group or the individual. Without questioning there is no chance for change or growth.


IDEAS AS TOOLS AND IDENTITY. Once you have signed up, join a group, and define yourself as one of them, then psychology makes everyone inclined to defend it, like defending ourselves (LINK to be added to human mind). See the phenomenon of professional bodies members defending colleagues behaviour, when they wouldn’t if that behaviour was done by another; such as doctors, teachers or priests or club members, helping to protect colleagues who have behaved unethically or illegally. Then the needs of the group are put before that of the individual or wider society. It is because too much is invested in group identity. You can only be independent, and have a possibility of neutrality and treating people fairly if you do not identify with any group.


IDENTITY & VIOLENCE. (Extract from “Identity & Violence” by Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen, featured on Radio 4 programme “Something Understood”“Born Lucky” December 27 2009.) We take our identity and nationality given at birth seriously, but Sen warns against building walls that are too high around our sense of identity. “Central to leading a human life are the responsibilities of choice and reasoning. In contrast violence is promoted by the cultivation of a sense of inevitability of an allegedly unique and often belligerent identity that we are supposed to have and which apparently makes extensive demands on us. Sometimes of a most disagreeable kind. The imposition of an allegedly unique identity is often a crucial component of the martial art of fermenting sectarian confrontation. Unfortunately many well intentioned attempts to stop such violence are also handicapped by the perceived absence of choice about our identities and this can seriously damage our ability to defeat violence. When the prospects of good relations among human beings are seen as they increasingly are as primarily amity among civilisations or dialogue between religious groups or friendly relations between different communities, ignoring the great many different ways in which people relate to each other, a serious miniaturisation of human beings proceeds the devised programmes for peace.”


“YOU ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS. YOU MUST ALL THINK FOR YOURSELVES”. (Quote from Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian film. 1979.) Identifying with a group is dangerous. The only freedom comes from independently choosing and not submitting to the prison of identity.


MAKING MISTAKES IS PART OF BEING ALIVE. We cannot not avoid making mistakes if we are to do anything at all in the world. We should aim to avoid harm, but accept that you will always cause some, even with the best intentions. So we should learn to accept mistakes made by ourselves and others. (LINK to be added to research on perception.) Though this does not mean that we should do nothing about the consequences of the mistakes.


MISTAKES TEACH. We can’t avoid making mistakes and they often reveal what is really going on underneath, which is hidden when things go well. When things go well it confirms us in our current interpretation of the world.  When they go wrong, it exposes the limitations of our current thinking and is an opportunity for us to reflect and learn.


CHANGING YOUR MIND PROVES YOU’VE GOT ONE. Think before you decide. Pause and consider the choice before you. Most of the time you do have time to do so. Maynard Keynes, “I change my mind when the facts change, what do you do?”


CONSEQUENCES ARE A MIX OF GOOD AND BAD. The outcome of actions is often unknown anyway, and the consequences of actions, and the cascading consequences of those consequences will mostly be mixed.


LUCKY OR UNLUCKY, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? (A story that occurs in many cultures.) Long ago in ancient china there was a quietly spoken farmer who lived near a busy village. The villagers regarded him as a little odd but they were friendly towards each other. Then one day one of his sons left a gate open and their plough horse ran away. The villagers said, ‘Oh, how unlucky. You’ve lost your plough horse, how are you going to work your fields now?’ And the farmer just smiled and shrugged his shoulders because he was that sort of guy. Then a few days later the plough horse return to its familiar paddock and the son shut the gate, but now there were three horses, for two wild ones had followed the plough horse. The villagers said, ‘Oh, how lucky you are. Now you are three horses. You’ll be able to sell one and have an extra plough horse. You are lucky.’ And the farmer just smiled and shrugged his shoulders because he was that sort of guy. Over the next few days the farmers on tried to break the new horses in, but the second horse was wilder than the first and threw him to the ground breaking his leg. The people of the village said, ‘Oh, you are so unlucky. How will you manage the farm, and three horses on your own now that your son is laid up with a broken leg?’ And the farmer just smiled and shrugged his shoulders because he was that sort of guy. A week later an important imperial official came to the village and commanded that as the emperor was to go to war with somewhere they had never heard of, all the able bodied young men were to leave the village with him that very day. The sad villagers said to the farmer, ‘You are so lucky. Your son will be safely at home, while ours are t o go off to some war and we may never see them again.’ And the farmer just smiled and shrugged his shoulders because he was that sort of guy. This conversation between the quiet farmer and the villagers is probably still going on to this very day.


BEING RIGHT NOW OR RIGHT FOR ALL TIME. As we cannot know everything, we all make mistakes in what we believe and what we do, the ‘truth’ for us is only provisional. It will need to be revised at some point. But we often yearn to be, or be part of something, perfect, always right and safe from flaws, immune to any jibs or criticisms. This is the provisional versus the absolute. Identities and groups are such good shields for hiding from these mistakes and not facing up to ourselves, the identity and group ‘must be defended’. We don’t like to admit that we or our group make mistakes, for we feel that would make us vulnerable. But the only way to avoid being vulnerable to mistakes and criticisms, is to accept them, accept being imperfect and provisional. You can either bend, or strain until one day you break. The only way to never make mistakes is to never do anything. The only way to be always right is to say that you are wrong, about some things all of the time, but don’t know it.


WORLD TOO COMPLEX TO FIX. As Mandelbrot showed, from simple rules, the complex patterns of the world appear unpredictably. There is constant change and diversity. The change is life. To stop that change; to fix it forever, is only death. Death is the state of no change. So being fixed about you being ‘right’ leads to death.


DOG ON A NAIL. Making changes in your life takes effort, but in the short term not as much as carrying on regardless. There were two old friends sitting on the back porch watching the sun go down on a hot day. As they talked every so often the hosts dog would lift up its head and howl. Then it put its head back down again as if nothing had happened. After a while visiting friend said, ‘Why does your dog howl like that?’ To which he replied, ‘Oh, He always does that. He’s just sat on a nail’. The visitor said, ‘So why doesn’t he just get up and sit elsewhere?’. And his host replied ‘Well, it doesn’t hurt that much.’  (Source ?)


CONSIDERED OPINIONS. When one does get first hand accounts; on both/all sides, then consider the context of the comments. What was meant by them. How it could be misinterpreted. (Especially when typed) If you don’t do this it is a guess, a ‘stab in the dark’ in which someone will get hurt and it will probably be you. Today’s mass media encourage quick unconsidered opinions and give them far too much exposure, just listen to any vox pops. Considered opinions are reduced to sound bites. And these are neither sound representations of what was said, and bites hurt people.


NO COMMENT. Most matters do not require your comment. Mostly idle talk is merely social grooming. You do not need to have an opinion on everything, as you cannot be fully informed about everything, and the less informed your opinion on a matter the less it matters. ‘I have nothing to say because I don’t know anything about it’, is a more honest position. You only need to have an opinion on that which you need to and can influence in the world. And there are far too many issues soon needs to pick ones causes carefully.


TESTING GOSSIP. (From a post by Cliff Eastabrook) In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “Actually I just heard about it and …”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really …”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”


THE TRUTH SETS YOU FREE. Evidence sets you free, opinions do not. Opinions are dangerous. Evidence based ideas can be reasoned with, tested, discussed and questioned. Opinions, ideas not supported by evidence, cannot be reasoned with, will not allow their testing, will accept no discussion and will not be questioned. These are the tools of dictators and contradiction they will not allow. Having opinions is quick but it is not easy. They take so much emotional effort to defend, as the opinions are part of identity and so attacks on them are attacks of the sense of self. Having evidence based ideas (as tools) is slow but not hard. When the idea is merely a tool, the evidence based idea is sourced outside of yourself, a criticism of it, is not a personal attack. It is liberating as it is not you personally that is either right or wrong. Evidence based ideas tell you much about the world. Opinions tell you only a little about yourself. Opinions can start off as evidence based, but they get entrenched and do not get reviewed as they become official views. They are reinforced if emotional effort has gone into making them or doing the research.


FAKE HISTORY is closed, neat, and has a clear answer. Real History, is always open, messy, and incomplete. But people would rather live in something smaller and of their own devising. (See Douglas Adams) Live within their simple maps of the world. Evidence is far too messy and inconvenient when telling stories. And some of these stories lead to great suffering (See David Aaronovitch’s book on the danger of conspiracy theories.) However, we need a simplified plan or map to navigate the complexity of the world, but we must remember that it will be wrong sometimes and we must look out for when it is.