A Thought On: Human Desire & Awareness

Hero4Thought wrote a post titled Human Desire & Awareness  The post starts out with

As I reflect on my continued departure from having a belief in God I’m trying to pinpoint some of the important factors that bring believers and skeptics to diverge where they do.

That got me thinking the way that lots of things do. Cogito ergo sum


The only thing that we can truly be certain of knowing is that we think, and therefore we somehow exist. We can be certain of no other thing. As children we learn about the world we are presented with and how it works. Empathy ensures that we like to see fairness and good outcomes, even for others. Of course, when you compare your feelings about those in Nepal recently you may feel no honest pity for them because their plight has not activated empathetic simulation of their condition.

The reality is that all we know of the life of another is merely a story being told in the simulation of the world that runs in our brains, and in that simulation the same nerves that interpret pain signals from our body are active when we see others in pain. In a way, all that is input to our brain is as real as anything we experience via our nerves.

The cut on your finger is not real, the sensation that you feel is merely electrical impulses sent to your brain to be input to the simulation. There the pain registers because your brain tells you that that set of signals causes pain and so other parts of your brain react to those signals in your brains simulation. It is theoretically possible to cause someone vast amounts of pain simply by inputting the right signals to the brain.

The reality is that nothing is real. Every last bit of it is reduced to electrical signals and input to our brains for the simulation. The tight connection between our nerves and senses and our brain gives us the illusion that we are part of a world that is outside and bigger than that of our body.

There is a confirmation bias at work. If we can appear to witness good things and justice happening for others, then in this world we seem connected to it must also be possible for us to experience both justice and goodness. Conversely, experiencing it vicariously drives a need to want it as a first hand experience.

When the rules we use to understand this impossibly unreal world are examined and compared to all the knowledge we have acquired in any way or form, our brains do the math to calculate outcomes of cause and effect scenarios. This is done in the simulation, or at least we are only self aware of the stuff that happens in the simulation. We stop being believers when we are forced by some knowledge to admit to ourselves that the math does not add up any more in consideration of gods and the supernatural. Then we use every tool available to square the problem to get the math to again work out right. Induction, deduction, anger, frustration, even fear. Then we eventually work out that if there is no god the math begins to work out again.

Knowledge is what makes us different from the believers. Not simply possession of that knowledge but the willingness and ability to apply it to the simulation of the world that we run in our heads. Believers don’t want to learn about biology, physics etc. To do so would cause pain, actual pain. Rearranging the rules in our simulation activates those bits which register pain from our nerves. In our heads both a paper cut and changing the rules around register as pain. Pain is bad and to be avoided. When you stay on the straight and narrow path you avoid the pain. The road less travelled is the one laden with pain brought on by new knowledge.

For me, this is where believers and non-believers part ways.

  1. And yet whenever I read stuff written by believers, it comes from such a different perspective; it infuriates me, drives me to make them see that they are wrong, but I never succeed.

    Believers know that God is real. I can remember back to when I switched from knowing to the other extreme at around 16 years old. It changed everything for me, and drove me to seek evidence, one way or the other, to explain reality. It was like somebody flicked a switch in my head, and that switch works one way. Unless people have experienced that switch, I don’t think we can ever convince believers that what they know is not real.

    • Interesting. You’ve never met a theist who doesn’t know, but simply thinks, that their concept of deity is real?

    • It’s just like the Santa Claus switch

  2. The argument between believers or non believers is only necessary to this short span of time, what we call a lifetime. Whether we believe we need a spiritual guide or personal empathy during those years is semantics. If thinking is the only constant, then truth is only what we think it is. In this way, perhaps both perspectives are correct and allowing both to coexist offers the option to move between the two if one chooses; offering no pain and joyful acceptance of the best of both worlds so to speak.

    • Uh huh. The great thing about holding an unfalsifiable belief is that nobody can ever prove you’re wrong. Then when you die you never get to find out either, because you no longer exist.

  3. Many years ago I realized there was a big gap between what believers think they believe and how (if)they apply it to the way they live their life. As you said. – the cause and effect of their actions,, taking no claim of Responsibility for their actions because belief of a God excuses them. They may think it does but it doesn’t. I’d rather be in control of my life and strive to understand the power I have then leave it up to a God who might be pissed off at me today if I don’t pay him enough attention. Because he gets jealous! And kills your friends if they are gay I don’t think I like this guy very much.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts! I really am enjoying the neutral space between belief and disbelief; whether it’s labeled unbelief or omni-belief or scrambled eggs doesn’t matter. That awareness allows.

  5. I’m a person of faith, but note that I didn’t say believer. Much of what you’ve written is supported by the theory of quantum mechanics right down to experiments that prove that we create outcomes just by observing. I think that science will eventually prove that everything is magic. 🙂

  6. What will really freak you out is that the descartian principle of I think therefore I am isn’t infallibly certain, despite its absolute appearance. It is entirely possible that our entire existence and our thoughts are an illusion, and to establish this, I will use a film to defend the point. The matrix, where all thoughts are created and controlled by computers. When the bad guy is in the restaurant he sums it up nicely over the steak…

    • While that is true, reality is a presupposition in that what our senses tell us is reality as confirmed by others etc.

      The idea that we live in a simulation becomes more plausible the closer we come to creating just such a simulation for ourselves.

    • Ain’t No Shrinking Violet
    • May 25th, 2015

    I don’t know how I missed this post of yours, but I’m glad I found it…it’s fascinating. I’ve been having conversations with another recent deconvert; we were both extremely invested in religion for 40-50 years. Him and I were discussing the absolute PAIN of trying to see the world with new, non-believing eyes. We had thought this pain was from the grief over losing god, but then I read this sentence of yours:

    “Rearranging the rules in our simulation activates those bits which register pain from our nerves.”

    That would sure explain a lot of our pain.

    Our brain has to work hard to build new neural pathways when we change our minds. It seems reasonable to me that huge, life altering decisions (like losing your religion), might bring real pain as some neural pathways wither and others are built. It’s interesting to think about.

    • It gave me goose bumps reading your comment. Thank you for commenting. I hope that this perspective helps ease the pain of the changes. Understanding is probably the best cure for such pain.

  7. I believe what I’ve experienced myself. Nothing more, but nothing less either.

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