UG1: The Way Things Are

“The world is at is / Other people are as they are / We are as we are / Deal with it”


As much as we might wish it were otherwise the world is as it is. The world existed before we were born and will exist after we are dead. The universe cares nothing for our existence, so it is up to us to understand it as best we can and react accordingly.

And that also goes for the fact that we find ourselves as we are and other people as they are. We have some ability to change ourselves, through conscious effort, and we should seek to do so, but we need to accept the fact that limitations exist whether we like it or not.
'Nothing is certain'
Whilst we think there are many things we know for certain, in truth there is no way we can know anything for certain.

There is no magic wand to reveal with certainty how the world is. What we know about how the world behaves derives from the accumulated knowledge of humanity’s scientific observation and experimentation. And what we observe about the world is that it behaves in a consistent manner: the sun rises in the morning; objects obey laws of motion; chemicals react according to known formula.
'Observation and experimentation'
Humanity, based on observation and experimentation, has derived scientific laws and rules which have enabled us to develop technologies and techniques which allow us to manipulate and change the world. For good and bad. Whilst we can’t prove the correctness of our scientific laws, for everyday purposes we can apply them as though they were absolute.
‘A work in progress’
Our understanding of scientific laws and rules is itself always a work in progress and our understanding of the world steadily increases enabling us to better understand and manipulate the world. Phenomenon that once appeared magical are now explainable and whilst evidence which contradicts our current understanding should never be ignored, because it could give rise to new or better insights, new seeming evidence could itself be mistaken or misunderstood and needs to be subject to open rigorous investigation.
There is a probabilistic element to how the world is and behaves, and chance often plays a major role in outcomes. Much of the probabilistic way in which the world behaves can also be described in terms of laws and rules which support our better interacting with the world.
Despite our having a wide range of scientific laws and rules, the real world is an immensely complex place and our understanding of interdependencies and emergent behaviors is imperfect. Moreover the existence of chaotic phenomenon, whereby very small changes can have very large impacts, means our ability to predict the future will always be limited. Our attempts at manipulating the real world for our own ends often has unintended consequences.
‘Our own limitations’
Your own understanding of how the world is and behaves is limited by the understanding of humanity as a whole, and is further limited by your own personal understanding. Your personal understanding is strongly influenced by your personal history of learning, by the extent to which you have been influenced by others, by your personal propensity for faulty thinking, and by the extent to which you are open to recognizing the limits of your understanding.
'No supernatural forces’
Beliefs in supernatural forces consciously manipulating the world do not pass any test of scientific reasonableness. People who claim to have witnessed magical or supernatural events are mistaken or are lying, at least in terms of the events truly being magical or supernatural. There are many cognitive biases which lead to delusions and false beliefs, often held with a sense of complete certainty.
'Why we are as we are’
We are as we are as a result of our genetic makeup, as a result of the environment and culture of our upbringing, as a result of our particular life experiences, as a result of what we have learned and been taught, as a result of the influences upon us, and as a result of the extent to which we have or have not, through self-awareness, taken personal responsibility for the way we think and behave and adapted accordingly. And so it is with everyone else.
'Instincts and behaviors'
Most of what we and others do is done based on instinct and is the result of automated behavior. Instinctive and automated reactions to circumstances and other people are hard wired into our brains as neurological pathways. Whilst these can be changed, and are changed as a result of our life experiences, for the most part the changes happen for reasons other than as a result of our conscious intent.

However, our brain is highly malleable, and we can take control of the shaping of our brain, by making a self-aware conscious effort to do so. By continued conscious effort we can create new pathways in our brain and ultimately create new instincts and automated reactions. We can rewire our brain.
'Always for a reason’
The things we do appear to us to be the right thing to do given our own particular goals and particular circumstances and the things we believe to be true, albeit much of it is instinctive, and sometimes strong emotions may dictate our short-term response. Whilst others may view our action as illogical, it is because they do not see things from our viewpoint.

And just as we do things for a reason, so do others. They do things which appear to them to be the right thing to do in the circumstances, from their perspective, though sometimes their emotions can get the better of them in the heat of the moment.
'Biased and emotional’
We are subject to cognitive biases and poor thinking habits and to emotions. Whilst we believe ourselves to be less prone to cognitive biases and poor thinking habits than others we are not, unless we have and are pro-actively seeking to better understand and counter them.

And other people are subject to cognitive biases and a tendency towards poor thinking and are emotional, except in so far as they have made the effort understand and counter them. As some have, but most haven’t.

As such we, and others, have certain attitudes and mindsets, whereby we filter the way we see the world through our pre-existing beliefs and see the world as far more black and white than it really is. We rarely accept that the way we see the world is distorted and for the most part we an absolute belief that the way we see the world is the way it really is. We see evidence all around us which justifies us in seeing the world as we do.
'A need to belong'
As a result of our evolutionary past, where losing membership of a group was invariably a death sentence, we are prone to strong biases in favor of those within the groups to which we belong and strong biases against those from other groups. We see evidence all around us which supports our reasons for thinking positively about the groups with which we identify and for thinking negatively about other groups. This gives rise to intuitions about other people which are in reality prejudices and in some people these can be extreme.
'Distorted views’
We are often only dimly aware of, or not aware at all of, the fact that we see the world in a biased and distorted way.

We think of our weaknesses as being common and part of being human, whilst our strengths are unique and down to us. The bad things in our lives are due to factors outside of our control whereas the good things are due to our efforts and decisions.

We believe that our feelings and instincts about other people are based on facts and rational judgments and that we have insights into what they are really like and are thinking; better so than they do themselves.

We expect others to behave in the way we believe they should and when they don’t that upsets us.
'You are responsible for your own life’
You are not responsible for your genetic make up. You are not responsible for the fact that you have certain inherent physical and mental characteristics and capabilities. You are not responsible for your early life. You are not responsible for much of the vagaries of your circumstances or the fact that you have no or only very limited control over many of the things that go on around you. But you are responsible for what and how you think, you are responsible for the extent to which you let your past dictate your future, and you are responsible for the extent to which you let your emotions and thoughts spill out into the things you say and do.

You are a thinking and self-aware being. Whilst you have been shaped by your own particular genetic make-up and by your own specific personal history, you are not slave to them. You have a self-awareness and an ability to recognise and override your instinctive thoughts and responses, and even your mindset: you have free-will.. You either accept that, and take responsibility for your life, or you reject that and throw away any rights you might have to be treated as an equal by others. You can’t have it both ways.
'You can change, but it is up to you'
Just as you can change your physical characteristics through paying attention to your diet and physical exercise, so can you change your mental and psychological characteristics through paying attention to what you think about, through choosing who you interact with and how, and through explicitly seeking to improve your thinking habits.

The life you are living now is a result of the choices you have made in the past. If you want your life to be different tomorrow you need to change the choices you make today.
'You have a choice’
You have a choice as to whether or not you take responsibility for and control over your life or you let your past and others continue to dictate your life.

You have a choice as to whether or not you allow yourself to spend your life on autopilot, failing to think about the alternatives you have, or whether you recognize that things could be different. It is not just the decisions you make in life that matter, but the ones you could make but don’t.

You have a choice as to whether you continually choose short term pleasures and gains and easy options at the expense of long-term interests.

You have a choice as to whether or not you spend time seeking to improve yourself both physically and mentally. You are not perfect and you can improve, if you chose to do so.

You have a choice as to whether or not you let your current habits, your current attitudes and behaviors, continue to dictate your life; whether or not you let short term pleasures and easy options continually override what is best for you in the long-term.

Cultivating the ability to make good choices takes time and constant practice, but like any skill you get better at it the more you try to do it.
'The frustration of other people’
One of the greatest frustrations in our lives is that other people don’t behave the way that we think they should do so, and it is sometimes annoys us. But why should they? Do you believe that you should be behaving the way other people think you should behave?

We are far too ready to recognise what we perceive to be the faults in other people whilst failing to recognise that we invariably have analogous faults of our own.
'In the end …'
In the end we die. But between now and then is the rest of our life. Every day we are making choices which dictate what sort of life it will be, whether we realize it or not, whether we admit it or not.