Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Flexibility In A Godless World

I am an unrepentant asshole. I'm actually kind of proud of it. My father, whatever differences we may have, taught that to me at a young age. And I've never forgotten it's value or correctness.

Perhaps I should explain. You see, I know what I know, and if you want me to change my mind, you'll have to prove it to me. But then, as my friend Philoman likes to say, if I didn't think I was right, I'd change my mind.

Profound, isn't it? I always thought so.

But relevant, believe it or not. You see, you can change my mind. About anything. Any time. Anywhere. All it takes is proof. Evidence. Heck, sometimes I'll take decent logic all on its own, although I'm hesitant about that. After all, Kettering's Law is accurate: "Logic is an organized way of going wrong with confidence."

And that mental flexibility is important to the godless. Not that all the godridden are calcified non-thinkers, but at some point, the mental flexibility of all True Believers breaks down, or stiffens up, as the case may be. After all, they believe something with no solid, corroborating evidence. That is an unassailable position, when you get down to brass tacks. How do you change someone's mind about something they've decided upon in the total absence of evidence? You can't. Thus the old saying about politics and religion.

But not me, baby! And not the bulk of the godless community, either. You show us that we're wrong about something, and a completely revolutionary thing occurs.

We. Change. Our. Minds.

I recently had a conversation that made me appreciate this ability more than ever. An associate and I were discussing, and by discussing I mean arguing over, religious views and their impact on politics. (I know. I know. I just mentioned that old saying. Shoot me!) Somewhere around hour three, he came up with quite a little chestnut of an observation. I can't repeat it word for word, unfortunately, but it went something like this:



Me: Okay, so poke a hole in my logic, if you can.
Him: The problem with your logic is that it's man's logic.
Me: As opposed to what? (As if I didn't know!)
Him: God's logic. You see, man's logic can be flawed.
Science changes all the time. But God's logic never changes.
Me: Can you show me this logic?
Him: No.
Me: Can you write it down for me? Or just explain it to
me?

Him: No.
Me: So, what you're saying is that we should ban gay marriage and
acquiesce to the Religious Right based on a set of conclusions that you can't explain, codify or even show me?
Him (with typical $h!t-eating grin): Well, yeah.

Argh! This kind of thinking is truly beyond me. I don't expect anyone to believe me unless I can back myself up. I may ask for temporary agreement until I can produce the proof, but that's just to keep the "conversation" moving along. But that's because I can change my mind, and I expect others to have the same capacity.

I know, it's silly of me, but I still have high hopes for the bulk of humanity.

On alternate Saturdays of months with blue moons.

See, that kind of inflexibility just seems dangerous to me. I love to be proven wrong! Oh, it stings, and more than stings. Sometimes I downright howl with the pain, writhe in anguish and gnash my teeth at the indignity. But the pure joy of increased understanding of the universe, the unadulterated feeling of coming closer to complete understanding of a thing, heck, that makes all the ego-pain worth it. Sometimes just barely, but worth it, nonetheless.

I wasn't always this way. My friends can tell you, and probably will, at length, that I'm a hard man to convince on some subjects. There were times I would get all worked up about something and there was no convincing me otherwise. There are still hints of that about me. I've had to work really hard to overcome those knee-jerk "I'm right! I'm right! I'm right no matter what!" spells. I am, as my father once put it, not cocky, but convinced. But that just makes it even sweeter these days when someone actually gives me the evidence I need to change my mind.

For example, Philoman and I have had a long-running argument over the nature of color. Yes, I said color. I've always taken the stance that a certain wavelength and frequency of light will give a certain light at a certain intensity. It was always just physics to me. Philoman, however, took a much more experiential view towards color, and frankly, I thought he was being a little mushy over it all. But I was flipping through the most recent SciAm, and came across this article about the evolution of color vision in mammals and birds, and how it differed. It's really cool. Birds see in the ultraviolet. That's awesome! And the article was great in other ways. It explained the whole color-as-experience thing to me in a way that made everything Philoman has been saying finally click. I found the part about how a weak light in a certain wavelength and a strong light in a different wavelength can actually stimulate the same light receptors and appear as similar colors especially convincing!

Woof! I was wrong. Philoman was so right, he was almost left. My very first thought was, "I need to let him know I finally understand what he means! I need to tell him he was right!" It didn't even occur to me until much later that I might have been upset about being wrong. I was so happy to finally understand this thing we've been wrangling with for so long that I was euphoric. I only wish all my conversions were this painless.

The beauty of this story is that it shows the flexibility of a non-dogmatic world-view. I was holding on pretty tight to my (false) ideas about color. But when faced with good evidence to the contrary, I flipped my views. The god-ridden like to point to this and call it a weakness. They pat themselves on the back and yammer about their "unwavering faith". In things for which they have no proof. Like that's a good thing.

The wonderous thing about the flexibility of the godless world is that it allows us to forever achieve closer approximations of "correctness." I don't know about you, but I think I'd rather be wrong and then be corrected. The other option means I run the risk of being unwaveringly wrong forever.

Other entries in the Godless World series: Loss, Purpose and Reason.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu