Nota Bene: Seneca – On the Philosopher’s Seclusion

Lucius-Annaeus-Seneca

As to the course which I seem to you to be urging on you now and then, my object in shutting myself up and locking the door is to be able to help a greater number. I never spend a day in idleness; I appropriate even a part of the night for study. I do not allow time for sleep but yield to it when I must, and when my eyes are wearied with waking and ready to fall shut, I keep them at their task.

I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.

– excerpt, Letters from a Stoic – Letter VIII: “On the Philosopher’s Seclusion”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist

What’s Really Important

myreligionissimple-bracelet

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

-Dalai Lama

Today is Easter. Easter is “a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament.” He was killed and then brought back to life. Abstracted from its context as the most important holiday for the world’s largest religion, we must see it for what it is. It is quite literally a holiday dedicated to a zombie.

I’m stating this in an irreverent way, but my intention is not to offend, but rather to bypass the contexts people frame Easter in – philosophical, spiritual, cultural, emotional – and focus on what people literally believe to be true. Some very high percentage of the 2.2 billion Christians in the world actually believe that a person was tortured, experienced biological death, then came back to life several days later. There is no scientific evidence to prove that this has ever happened at any time in history, so it can plainly be called a supernatural event.

So this supernatural resurrection event is proof for them (and was, at one point, for me) that this particular person is the descendent of a god – the one and only god – and that there is some existence beyond the physical life and death we are aware of. There are a whole host of other beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals associated with the holiday, but that’s the gist of it. It’s a holiday dedicated to a supernatural event that many people believe in but for which no one has any scientific evidence.

So, on a day when billions of people are looking to a fairy tale for guidance, and thinking a great deal about life and existence, I thought it might be a good time to take stock of what is ultimately really important in our daily lives.

Does any good really come from people believing in a supernatural resurrection event? Does taking part in rituals dedicated to a supernatural resurrection event have any measurably positive effect on the rest of the world? Once you believe in it, do you cure nearby people’s illnesses? Do you brighten the day of strangers and nonbelievers? Do you fight crime?

You may do some or all of those positive things, but I would argue it has nothing to do with whether you were convinced someone you heard about in a book magically returned from the dead.

What is really important on a day like today? Is it not just to be kind to those around you, to be peaceful, and to appreciate your life as it unfolds, moment by moment? As the above quote from the Dalai Lama so succinctly says, there’s no need for fanfare or complexity. In fact, you don’t even need a holiday. All you need to focus on is kindness, a little bit, every day.

When you cut through all the differing myths and doctrines of major world religions and philosophies, the true message, the most important and consistently recurring one, is that of kindness. It’s the Golden Rule: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” The goal is harmony with the world and the other people around you. It’s a simple message that becomes clouded by many different, mutually exclusive clubs each trying to convince you that their history and mythology is more important and correct than the others.

But there’s no need for fairy tales or supernatural events to get to the core of what’s important. And that’s simply this: be kind to others. Everyone has a different path, and everyone has their own struggles. We all interexist and are all irreversibly interwoven into one another’s lives. The ideal world is the one where there is the least amount of suffering for the greatest number of conscious beings. How do we come closer and closer to making this world a reality? Be kind. It’s that simple. Kindness engenders kindness.

I’m not judging the people who believe in the story behind Easter as unintelligent or childish. I would certainly characterize the idea itself as immature, and no more valid than any other supernatural/paranormal myths. But I actually understand just how alluring the emotional security behind it is. A myth like this gives all who believe in it a taste of the sublime, a feeling that there is something more important, more glorious than our corporeal existence. Many smart, capable, and otherwise mature and inquisitive people believe in unverifiable religious things like this. They didn’t from the start, though. Their parents, teachers, and culture convinced them of it, and over time it became a part of their lives, a core belief of their very existence. I used to believe; I was raised Catholic. Over time, though, the myths just didn’t add up. Contradictions and supernatural claims could only go so far in my mind.

I understand that people will believe in supernatural religious doctrine their entire lives with no proof to support it, simply because they were raised in a family who belonged to a tradition that believed those things. That’s ok; it’s unlikely I’ll change many people’s minds. Those beliefs are things that people acquire, change, and renounce over long periods of time, in the privacy of their minds and homes.

My point is that being focused on an arbitrary ancient myth changes your focus from the very real present world, with all its difficulties and wondrous uncertainties, to a convenient, undocumented fantasy world where we can all be assured some form of eternal existence – provided we believe in arbitrary, unverified things.

No matter your religion, the bulk of your mental energy should be focused not on supernatural beliefs, which demonstrate few, if any, benefits, but instead on cultivating kindness. Kind thoughts lead to kind actions, and kind actions, no matter how small, make this world, the real world of today, just a bit better.

Hello, mind

phrenology and thoughts

If you pay strict attention to your mind you may begin to realize that your thoughts are not chosen by you. The thought process is so effortless and seamless that you’re rarely aware of the kind of turbulent ride your mind takes you on, perhaps other than an occasional sense of its unpredictable oscillation between various emotions: for instance, moments, however long or pronounced, of happiness or dissatisfaction with life.

We may feel as we are in control of our life and the life of our minds, but this website is predicated on the notion that you are not. And neither am I. Free will is an illusion. Thoughts are not chosen by us, they arise from physical, chemical processes that occur in the mind, over which we have no control.

My name’s Arturo and I’m a musician and artist based in Chicago. Thoughts Involuntary collects writings I’ve been amassing on art, music, film, writing, creativity, productivity, free will, neuroscience, meditation, technology, artificial intelligence, evolution, psychology, politics, education, atheism, religion, linguistics, astronomy, physics, humor, dreams, and puzzles.

I have no deep authorship of these writings, as they have passed through the powerful processing computer nature has bestowed upon me (my mind) and been connected in ways I’ll likely never understand. The thoughts that comprise these writings have simply arisen, and I’ve allowed them to organize themselves as clearly as possible.

I make no claims to being an expert on any of these topics. All I can say is that I have a curious mind, and as a musician and artist who thought he would end up becoming a physicist, I have a sustained interest in the realms of science and reason.

The end goal of this blog is to develop and collect enough material to publish a book. It’s tentatively titled Threads: Essays on Thoughts That Have Arisen in the Mind of an Artist and Musician, Which He Has No Time to Fully Explore. The book will cover topics as diverse as the blog. In this context the word “threads” has multiple meanings, but the simplest refers to the different threads of thought I’m pursuing. I’ll explain the other meanings in upcoming posts. The subtitle refers to the fact that I’m first and foremost a musician and artist; most of my time is spent producing and performing music, and creating visual art. As such, I don’t have the kind of time to delve so deeply into the topics as to give professional-level research and provide the appropriate extended annotations and footnoting required of scholarly work. This is more a place to assemble my varied and scattered thoughts on subjects I find fascinating.

Some prominent thinkers and creators I’m sure to reference with some frequency are The Buddha, Lao Tzu, Seneca, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Ray Kurzweil, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Hollis Frampton, John Smith, Ken Jacobs, Owen Land, Michael Snow, Peter Greenaway, Ernie Gehr, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Allen Paulos, H.P. Lovecraft, J.G. Ballard, M.R. James, Donald Barthelme, and Brian Eno. I’ve recently become interested in Terence McKenna and Timothy Leary, as well as various writers working in the realms of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and behavioral economics and sociology.

The point of the blog is not necessarily meant to persuade anyone to adopt my beliefs, and it’s certainly not meant to offend or irritate. It’s not written with a shred of anger towards anyone who believes different things than me. It’s honestly more of a way to collect thoughts for myself, and to present them to others as food for thought.

This site will give me a place to address my logorrheic tendencies and apply them where they’re most appropriate. Music and art tend to thrive on concision, but writing, provided it is skillfully composed, can really give one the space to develop ideas. Writing allows the mind to construct and navigate its way through vast seas of thought.

With this post, I’ve set sail.