Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Blame Game and Being Responsible

Human beings today are more in tune with nature and life than earlier humans because of what we know today about our Earth, life and the Universe. Industrialization has brought comfort and luxury to many living in developing and developed nations and, in turn, has changed the way people think and act. Due to the progression of economies in these places, people are able to do more than feed and shelter their families but also to live a more prosperous and safe life under democratic laws, rights and freedoms. But, what do people think of each other as a mother or father, sister or brother, friend or stranger? Do we care to live in peace and harmony? My thoughts are that people do not see reality so clearly as to know that the person next to them is a person with thoughts and feelings too. That we are all similar in how we sense things in our environment and act on them. That although we all have different personal and academic experiences we are all human beings that care about life and being happy.

Even within families there seems to be an endless struggle to create harmony because there are many interests at hand that need to be accommodated. A sister may want to help her teenage brother who is struggling in school but is ignored by him because he feels that her intention is to treat him like he's still a child. Or a mother and father may want to help their daughter with her drug problem but she feels like her parents don't understand her. Why do even our own family members feel like they can't talk about their problems and come to a solution with the help of their own family? Problem solving and family advice are no match for our own self-interests. If we feel like we need or want something we won't let anyone or anything stop us in our tracks. We live in an individualistic society where every person works on their own to get what they want. Even having children has become obsolete because it conflicts with our view of being independent and confident. Our ancestors moved in groups in order to be safe and get tasks done efficiently. They relied on one another to accommodate their daily needs. Over time our ancestors decided to settle and form bonds between companions in order to protect and feed their young and each other. Humans have always worked together in concert to help each other and to survive.

How can we successfully guide our children if we cannot cooperate and communicate with one another? What can our children learn from this? They can learn that it is normal to act on self-interest and put little trust in anyone including their own parents and siblings. This is detrimental because it causes individuals to confide solely in their own thoughts and choices and blame others for their faults and poor decisions. In an individualistic society each person takes pride and joy in learning on their own and making decisions and rules for themselves regardless of what others have advised and experienced. They choose not to learn and grow from their past experiences and mistakes but instead they forget them in order to maintain confidence in themselves. They do not reflect on their past actions so they limit their ability to adapt to their environment and unknowingly take risks throughout their life. When they run into problems they are quick to blame others for their mistakes and, in turn, lose their sense of responsibility for their own choices and actions. They blame others because they feel that they could not have made a better choice and that their poor decision is a result of their helplessness and innocence. They feel this way because they believe that since they are alone in this world they have made the best decision that they could at the time and no one was there to stop them or guide them. In my opinion, it seems that these individuals are very quick to forget what others have advised so if there is a problem they feel less inclined to blame themselves. So in the end they make choices based on how they feel at the time and when a problem is encountered they want to blame others in order to relinquish their responsibility for their actions. They end up making poor decisions at the expense of others and themselves.

People who are quick to blame others lack responsibility and self-respect. They believe that in order to build and maintain their confidence and motivation they should never blame themselves or admit to their faults because they feel that it is unnecessary and only makes them look immature and dumb. They should not have to question their decisions because they feel so confident in themselves. Why should a poor decision stop them from feeling this way? Well, when an individual makes a poor decision it's important for them to admit their mistakes and accept the consequences of their actions in order to learn and be more responsible. They feel like they are protecting themselves from feeling ashamed and losing their confidence but what they are actually doing is protecting their selfish ego from being damaged at the cost of themselves and others. Responsibility is not a bad thing. It is a means of protecting oneself from obstacles that may hinder one's success in life. It is a means of reducing one's selfish ego so that they may use their brain capacity to problem solve and reflect in order to avoid encountering more problems. It is not a means of lowering one's self-confidence and pride.

Why are we afraid of being responsible citizens? It doesn't help that free and democratic societies encourage individuals to put responsibility in a large national government, which in itself shows little accountablity and integrity in its operations, and live as an individual and not as a family member or local citizen. I think that our communities need to set a better example for our youth and for each other. We need to be encouraged to find a balance between and among family, community, and individualism. Religion must be seen as insignificant and unnecessary for the unity among people. Unity can be established, not through adherence to a particular religion, but through care and respect for one another and for the environment. This can be accomplished by removing religion from government and education and replacing it with open discussions about all peoples and world issues (life), our local environment (nature), helping people that are in need without burdening others (ending suffering), and building love and respect for one another (empathy). People need to be encouraged to take responsibility into their own hands in order to create positive changes for themselves and, in turn, for others. When we are responsible, we do not act in self-interest but in all-interest. Our egos do not need to be bloated to live a prosperous life but we can gain self-confidence in learning from our past experiences and helping others based on what we have learned.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Expand Your Knowledge Through Self-Conscious Reflection

Self-conscious reflection is the highest level of operations of a human brain. Although human beings have evolved from primates, these organisms lack the ability to reflect. This is evident in the behaviour of primate species, such as chimpanzees. Chimps like to play games with their friends but cannot strategize and think about how to improve their skills while playing a game. They lack the ability to organize multiple thoughts and ideas in their brains because their brains are not as complex and well-developed as human brains. However, the brains of primates are well-developed compared to brains of lower order mammalian species such as dogs and mice.

So how has such a marvelous characteristic evolved in human brains? Self-conscious reflection is built on several levels of processes that Marvin Minsky calls the Six-Level Model of the Mind: 1) instinctive reactions, 2) learned reactions, 3) deliberate reactions, 4) reflective thinking, 5) self-reflective thinking, and 6) self-conscious reflection. Instinctive reactions are already operating in a human at birth since these reactions have evolved from the time of the earliest humans. The next two processes are developed at an early age as a young human being explores and studies their surroundings and interacts with their imprimers (family and friends). Throughout adolescence the remaining processes are developed and strengthened as a result of new experiences that challenge an individual to think about their choices and reflect on their actions.

Education tremendously facilitates a human's ability to problem solve and make informed choices and goals. It helps an individual gain knowledge of life and the universe and, in turn, expand their minds to different possibilities in nature. Educated individuals have the freedom to reach the highest level of the mind which is self-conscious reflection. For those who are oppressed by their communities, families, and poverty there is much difficulty in reaching this level because they lack the basic knowledge of life and nature to facilitate their human abilities-- they are limited in their abilities to learn and grow as a human being. This is the case for Muslims around the world, particularly women. It is also the case for many people who are forced to believe in religion at an early age without the proper knowledge of other religions and belief systems.

There is no open discussion about religious beliefs of other peoples around the world and, as such, a person's scope of nature and world views is limited to the belief system their family and community hold so strongly. When a child grows up in this environment and is forced to adhere to one religious belief system they are robbed of their freedom to learn about all religions and make informed choices. They become limited to learning only about their parent's religion. This hinders a child's ability to reach the higher level processes in the brain because they are taught about a world-view that is skewed and inaccurate. Since there is little discussion about religion in the modern education system today a child remains closed-minded about the differences and similarites between all people and their world-view is reduced to their own communities and families. Their level of understanding of life and nature remains immature and simple. As they grow up their transition to adulthood is more difficult because their view of the world does not change so much as a result of the influence on them to adhere to their religious belief. Any idea they encounter throughout their life which encourages them to question their belief system is ignored and dismissed because of what they have been taught to believe by their family and community. To these people the complexities of science are misunderstood like the structure and function of the cell so they remain immature in their thoughts and practices. They build their knowledge around their religious belief, whether moderate or strong, and leave out important facts, such as quantum physics, neuronal transmission in the brain, and evolution, which they find unnecessary or insufficient to learn. Their religious belief helps them to fill in the gaps so there is no need to further their understanding of the facts. But, what their religious belief actually does is hinder the development of their mind. Having a religious belief is closing one's mind to the world and all the possiblities in the universe that it negatively effects the way people live and think.

Self-conscious reflection, the highest level of the mind, can be reached by an educated human being that considers all the possibilities of a given idea and that can let go of their pre-conceived beliefs about an idea. The reason for this is that in order to comprehend a particular fact or concept one cannot believe in something that is unproven or make-believe because it may conflict with a given fact and cause the person to be confused and misunderstand the fact itself and all other facts and concepts related to that fact. When ideas and concepts are understood properly a person can self-consciously reflect on their thoughts and come to accurate conclusions and decisions. Moreover, this reflective process can stimulate new thoughts and questions that are completely in line with existing facts and concepts. Self-conscious reflection is important because it gives human beings the power and encourages them to understand their own nature and the nature of the universe. It helps people to understand their niche on earth-- that we have evolved over millions of years for the purpose of surviving for as long as possible on planet Earth. And in doing so, we have been able to sense the beauty of nature and depend on the fruits of it. Isn't life grand?! It should be, since all life have worked hard to survive for millenia and make the Earth their home.

Charles Darwin was a very intelligent man that had reached the highest level of the mind, and this is a remarkable feat in his time. He was able to properly collect, analyze, and organize his thoughts to correctly explain the concept of evolution. He devised a concept from previously built concepts. What a remarkable human being indeed! If it weren't for him, our children today would not have the benefit of understanding the history and biology of life on Earth. Why should we hinder our children's brain development by teaching them about our religious beliefs thus limiting their horizons. What ever happened to the idea that 'our children are our future'. Education in today's modern societies cater to the proper care and development of our children, which is funded by the citizens. Why should we interrupt this education by teaching our childern about magical beliefs that conflict with what they are learning in school. There is no benefit in this but rather the cost of burdening our children with the difficulty of grasping scientific, mathematical, historical, and social concepts. What a burden! It will be our children that will build institutions and projects, based on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future (Dennett, Breaking the Spell 2006). Our children need to be encouraged and given time to grow and learn. Open discussions about religion at home and in the education system are important for there to be an open society and for expanding our knowledge of nature and the universe. With this knowledge people can focus on making the world a better place to live and recognize that their lives do have meaning.