A blue box in your head proves you have a soul

Philosophy calls it the “mind-body” problem or the “mind-brain” problem, and it’s one of the main problems in the history of philosophy and the philosophy of science, believe it or not. Here’s why. Close your eyes. Now picture a blue box over a white background. Focus on that for a while. Now ask yourself: where is the blue box? In your head? Of course not: if we cracked your skull open, no box, just grey matter, neurons, synapses. Well, you say, that’s because the blue box wasn’t real. Really? How so? Was it not really blue, as blue as any other blue thing that you have seen? Was the background not really white, as white as a dry-erase board? Surely, then, even if we call it an “imagining” or “picture in our head,” and even if we admit that we cannot feel the box or touch it, and even if we explain how this actually works in the brain, the blue box remains a reality; it is somewhat real; after all, it looks identical to a real blue box on a white background! In other words, it’s not obvious at all what the hell the blue box is. So, if we cannot simply banish the blue box from existence, and if it’s not in our brain (although it’s clearly caused by our brain), then perhaps it’s in our mind (whatever that means). And when philosophers use the phrase “mind,” they historically meant “soul” too; that is, the soul is where we have all our experience, perceptions, thoughts, memories–in a word, consciousness. The theater of the mind.

And just like that we prove the soul. Well, not really I’m afraid; you can’t prove anything (although Descartes thought this was the only thing you could prove). There are several answers, replies, and rebuttals to this simple little thought experiment, and many people will simply laugh at the fact that philosophers think about these things at all. Yet books are still being written about it by intelligent people from various disciplines, both academic and popular. And I believe these little puzzles suggest at something. I call these sorts of things hints–it’s a hint that reality is more than meets the eye.

Picturing a blue box in your head, of course, is just a subset of the larger human ability to think, to be self-aware, meta-conscious. To have the very peculiar ability to think about the very thing that is doing the thinking–our brain, which just doesn’t seem right damn it. Even if you don’t believe in mind, it’s bizarre. Thus the history. For Rene Descartes (pronounced “Day-Cart”), the existence of the mind (not the brain or body) was the only thing we know for sure exits. He famously said “I think: therefore I am.” He could doubt that his body and brain existed–perhaps they were illusions, like a dream–but he could never doubt that a thinking being existed (i.e. himself), even if he was plugged into the Matrix this was a self-evident truth that his entire philosophy rested on. The philosopher of science Dan Dennet would say “mind” is nothing more than a word we use that means “brain.” Mind is reduced to brain. A thought literally is a group of neurons in the brain, nothing more (“I am having a neuron X34 right now”). The philosopher John Searle gets a little more complex. He says we will always have to describe the mind and its contents in a fundamentally different way than the brain and neurons. Therefore, they sort of have a special ontological status and always will. But he doesn’t want to be a “dualist” which to me sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it too. Most religious philosophers are perfectly fine with saying we have a brain that causes events in the mind, and that they are different things and one doesn’t decay and this is all okay because a transcendent God exists so I’m pretty much open to that kind of stuff. 🙂

I prefer to think of the everything–brain, trees, body, galaxies–as a manifestation of Mind, instead of Mind as a manifestation of matter (which I admit makes a lot of sense, after all mind took millions of years to evolve in the first place…I’m using Mind in a special metaphysical way so fuck off this works). In the tradition of Berkeley, Kant, Emerson, Philosophical Idealism is the belief that Matter is on some metaphysical level an expression of Mind, as a painting. My entire life is a manifestation of my own mind. If you were to look in my brain, you would find a manifestation of the choices of my ancestors, then my parents, then myself, and the Author of Nature in the first place. And this is a beautiful way to live my life.

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A blue box in your head proves you have a soul

What having a baby did to my faith

Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, having a baby has done little to my faith. My faith is simple and always will be. I still believe in a simple God; I still live my life as if God exists; I still look at a world infused with meaning, loaded with purpose and potential, and on fire with love and benevolent creation. I still believe in loving my enemies and strive to actually do it. I must admit my faith has waned in intensity over the years, but this is normal. We all become moderates and emotion comes and goes. In college I would constantly think about God and it would fill my heart with ecstatic joy. Those events come less often, probably because I have other things on my mind. I must also admit that having a baby was a different kind of ecstatic joy. In a way God wasn’t there at the birth of my son. My faith has always been very personal; He is with me mostly when I’m alone. So at the hospital of course God was present, but in a more secondary, distant way (at least in my mind). As Immanuel came into the world, I was focused on him and my wife only–nothing else mattered at the time. When I’m in a crowd, I’m a Deist; but alone, there I have my personal God. Perhaps that’s why I don’t go to church–or why I should go.

Yet if “faith” means anything, as James says in the New Testament, it means works, action, conduct. Faith without works is dead. Contrary to what Paul makes us think, faith is not believing in x, y, or z. “I believe in one God, the father almighty, creator of blah blah blah.”  Either that belief makes you do great things, either it purifies your heart and will, either it makes you a good person–or your belief is meaningless. To take a silly example, Jon Jones is never a champion without his faith (this goes for many champions, but the real champions of course are moral, not athletic, champions).

In this regard, having a baby has compelled me to become a better person and will only intensify. I’m sure this goes for all fathers, faith or no faith. It simply gives me another reason to be better, which leaves God where he always was–a fundamental reason to be better. I want Immanuel to grow up with a father that he truly respects, and he will–thanks to God, my family, and every other person that has made me into who I am today.

What having a baby did to my faith

How I learned to love drivers that text

My latest pet peeve is (was) texting and driving. Nobody likes it, of course, but for some reason I was taking it to the next level. I would walk around town yelling at cars. “Fucking idiot is going to kill someone,” I would say with disdain and self-righteousness. It was taking up way too much head space. Aristotle says the only life worth living is to contemplate virtue daily. I agree. So finally one day I stopped myself and asked the wonderful and enlightening question why. Why was I doing this? Why was I pissed off about texting and driving, among all things? Well, turns out I was being the typical, self-righteous, judgmental asshole that we all are.

And here’s how it works. First, you make a change in your life that separates you from a certain group of people. For me, this was drivers and people with smart phones. Because I am fortunate enough to live close to work–partly a choice, partly luck–I rarely have to drive. And I don’t have a smart phone (even though I want one, which is relevant here). Next, you witness those people doing something stupid, like texting and driving. Then, you judge the shit out of them and make a big deal of it, a much bigger deal than it warrants. And there is nobody around to call you out, because the people around you are likely not part of the group you are hating.

Everyone does this. This is simply how judgement works all the time. The further away you are from the person or group of people, the more you will hate them. The holocaust worked through a long chain of command system. Skin color; nationality; life style; status. The old man who can’t get it up will judge sexual immorality. The ugly woman will judge the superficiality of society; the person who starts working out slowly finds himself judging fat people. And so on with thousands of possibilities to become an asshole.

So back to the amazingly simple and amazingly powerful words of Christ: “judge ye not.” That means, in plain English: do not judge. What a wonderful way to live. So, of course texting and driving is stupid. But I understand, and it’s all good. And if I had a smart phone and was driving, hell yes I would be tempted–I would be on the other side of the window with some asshole yelling at me.

How I learned to love drivers that text