Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Constant change

If there's one thing we learn as we travel through time on our little spinning planet it's that nothing is forever; change (mostly unexpected and unpredictable) is the only constant in life.

We need only look at the news everyday to observe this fact, for example, I find myself asking the question today, what lasts longer, an Australian prime minister or a Rowntrees fruit-pastel? In our own parliament change has come in the form of a completely overhauled and mostly unknown (to me at least) "eclectic" set of people who now represent the opposition to the incumbent Government.

For people fleeing war and people looking for a quick buck, change is afoot. Last week Europe was an open door with people cheering at railway stations, this week, not so much. For many people the most unwelcome kind of change has visited them, people who were just driving to a football game on the A27 or making a pilgrimage to Mecca or fighting for ISIS in a Syrian city or just sitting at their desk in an American university, the result the same, extinguished before the end of their natural spans. How might we deal with this apparent chaos, randomness and seemingly malicious nature of nature? People find different ways of course, all of these news stories have thrown up different examples of coping strategies which prompted me to write this post and talk about how I personally find some of these strategies much more satisfying than others.

For many/most religious people our reality is reconciled by inventing an alternate reality, an unconvincing imaginary one where few of the natural rules of our universe need be obeyed. An example of this would be the Imam in Oxford who reconciles the crane collapse in Mecca that killed a hundred people, including a father of four from Bolton, by claiming the deceased was "blessed" because he will "go straight to heaven, no question" (actually there are lots of questions about "heaven"). So, the pervasive religious strategy is to move the problem into the realm of the unfalsifiable, i.e. impossible to prove wrong. For me, and millions of other people, this is a deeply unsatisfying tactic; wish-thinking by another name, a wish for certainty, but a wish that is delegated into the future perhaps even an abdication of responsibility, i.e. someone is actually responsible for this particular accident.

A much better and more satisfying strategy in my view is to embrace change, accept the evidence of our eyes and our reason, i.e. that there is no overarching purpose in the universe and that we create our own. Reality makes much more sense if you accept that any wish for an external unchanging framework in which we play some bit-part is just an emergent property of our consciousness; a product of the chemical and electrical processes in our brains interacting with our environment. In other words we might be happier if we can overcome this natural desire for future certainty and instead, learn to live in the moment.

Of course, living in the moment is a very difficult and challenging thing for evolved primates to do, in many ways it goes against our nature, we're pattern seeking mammals after all. We are easily obsessed and distracted by unimportant things and being social animals we care far to much about what other primates think about us; we love group-think. But, on the other hand this highly evolved social nature enables us to care for others and have empathy without which we would have gone extinct millennia ago.

In my own experience I have found that embracing ideas such as illness not being a punishment, make your own purposes, this life is all we get or that we are related to every other living being on the planet has been liberating. Thinking this way certainly facilitates the idea of living in the moment which when you fleetingly achieve it, really struggles to be beaten.

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