Nothing Lasts.


Small Open star cluster Pismis 24. Source:

These happen to be the truest words that I know of. Terence Mckenna brought them to my attention when he mentioned them in one of his lectures (listen to the short version here ).

“You want to know a psychedelic truth, you know, thirty years of psychedelic voyaging, I can distill it for you,  this is not a psychedelic truth, this is truth.

Here it is – you can learn this from drugs, you can learn it from life, you can learn it from death, you can learn it anyway you like, but by god you will learn it.

Nothing lasts. Nothing lasts…not your enemies, not your friends, not your youth, not your dreams not your fears, not your hope, not even yourself. Nothing lasts.  

Now this has been said often, but has been felt rarely, Heraclitus  said “Panta Rhei ” – all flows. Nothing lasts… “

From this simple fact we can extrapolate into our lives and see which concepts gets destroyed and which stay intact. Since nothing lasts, it is completely ridiculous to feel anxious, because it implies that we’re in control. That by anticipating and worrying about the future, we might somehow keep things from going one direction or the other. But we’re really not in control. Whatever we have control over is so minuscule to the forces that nature demonstrates, that it becomes almost comical how futile our struggle for control is.

Letting go of control allows us to feel so relieved because we can finally just accept whatever reality is that we find ourselves in. We stop trying to fix it and just let it be. It is in those moments that we think “Fuck it, whatever, who really gives a shit”.

It doesn’t even have to be during some profound moment. It could come at any time. When we are having a particularly hard day, or when we’re failing at becoming who we aspire to be. When we find ourselves lost in the abyss of rejection, self-doubt and fear.

We might feel like we’re being submerged in murky waters, where confusion reigns and we don’t know which direction to take and how much energy to put into that final push for air. Maybe it’s better not to take that final push. We start considering the alternative as a realistic possibility.

It doesn’t have to be some life or death situation though. It could be simply giving up on an ideal that we have held ourselves to. It could be the acceptance of the end of a relationship or a side of us that we have clung onto for far too long.

Yes, nothing lasts. Ironically that will always be true. In that statement we see the paradox of living. What we call a living organism is just matter changing forms. There is no purpose to life. The purpose of an organism isn’t to survive and reproduce. That is a misunderstanding or a lie. Living organisms aren’t choosing to live. They just do. They don’t have a purpose. We humans form our ideas about having a purpose after the fact that we become alive.

It’s like we are trying to rationalize living. We don’t need to justify our existence, or the lack of it. It’s like asking a cat to justify its use of time. It presumably doesn’t care what the purpose of its life is, it just lives.

That’s what humans struggle to come to grips with the most. The acceptance of simply being an animal. Of just being this weak, two legged, weird, awkward creature. Our fellow earthlings seem to inherently accept this, while it is lost on us. We have work on  developing the acceptance of our inevitable end. They don’t appear to give it much thought. This makes us jealous. If only we could accept the present moment in its fullest, then we would actually be living. Instead we’re just thinking about living.

What happens when proverbial shit finally hits the fan? World War III, the zombie apocalypse, or more likely, us just fucking the planet through global warming. Well, that won’t last either.

Fuck it, let it happen. Let everything that can go wrong, actually go wrong. At least that way we realize the futility of worrying about it all going wrong.

Chances are though, it won’t be that bad. But on a more individual level, shit can go completely wrong in our simple, small, little lives. You lose that dream job, that lover, that wife. You may lose all your money, family and friends.

But you know why it’ll be fine? Because you already knew that was going to happen at some point. Nothing lasts…remember? Since nothing lasts, then nothing bad will always be bad. Death is not that bad when you’re the one that’s dead. That broken heart will heal and you’ll move on. That feeling of emptiness when missing someone is also going to be dragged away from you, one small painful increment at a time, until there is nothing. And that will last.

Nothing lasts.


Science is predictable magic.

Plato’s Cave Source:

When studying physics it becomes somewhat easy to really believe that say, the electron goes around the atom, and that atoms are made from quarks and so on. The mathematical description of these particles is so well established that we talk about them as if they are objects similar to a table or a house. The problem however  is that those who have studied physics at a high level, sometimes forget to mention that these things don’t ‘exist’ in the same sense that other ‘normal’ objects exist. The statement “an electron can be in two places at once” has been said so many times that it has been accepted by the public without much thought to what the implications are.

Allow me to elaborate further by using a simpler example. Magnets. As children, many of us who have been exposed to permanent magnets have played around with them, and quickly found out that they can attract and repel each other. By tinkering a little bit, we discover that they only attract when the North and South pole of the two magnets are placed close together. Otherwise they repel each other. In other words, opposite sides attract, and like sides repel. Pretty simple.

Some people (especially adults) tend to stop asking after being told this information. It makes sense. They are too busy and know if they keep asking then they might get told something complicated and have to actually think about it. Regardless, they know that someone somewhere knows the exact reason and leave it up to them to worry about such matters.

Children however don’t have those expectations, so they dig deeper. They ask why magnets behave in the way that they do. If they ask their teacher she might explain that magnets produce a ‘magnetic field’ which is generated by the electrons inside the atoms. As these electrons are whizzing about inside the material, a magnetic field is generated and it is this field which causes the repulsion and attraction. She might even show them what the magnetic field looks like by placing a piece of paper on top of the magnet and then sprinkling on some iron filings. The iron filings then show the shape of the magnetic field. Makes sense right? Not really. None of this explains why the magnetic field is produced when electrons move. Then there is the bigger question of what the electrons are in the first place. If a kid asked the teacher to explain what the electrons are, and why they generate the magnetic field when they move, then the teacher is stuck (probably because the level of mathematics required to answer this question is way above the teacher and the child asking the question). The teacher might reply that she doesn’t know and move on to another (simpler) topic. 

So, what do we actually know? Well…not much. We could go deeper and talk about how the magnetic force (the force that we experience when the magnets repel each other) is not only generated by a moving charge such as the electron, but also by the spin of the electron. At this level, my own understanding starts to get blurry and a proper study of quantum mechanics is then required to explain the details. The famous physicist Richard Feynman is interviewed in this wonderful video, where he talks about why it’s so difficult to explain why magnets attract and repel each other.

I think that our intuitions and familiarity with the world creates an illusion of normality. We think  “of course rocks aren’t mostly made up of empty space” and it is self-evident that we can’t just go through walls. The time that our intuitions break down and the illusion of normality is dispelled occurs when we encounter small ‘glitches’ in nature. These glitches occur when we observe magnets repelling each other without ever touching. We can even feel the force that repels them, and yet we cant see anything producing this force. It is in these moments that we get a glimpse of the nature of reality.  It’s like we briefly saw the outside world while being trapped in Plato’s cave.

If you had never seen a magnet before, and I simply told you that a magical rock exists that has a mysterious force that can effect objects at a distance, you’ll probably think I’m a quack. This is the way most rational people think about those that claim that magic is real, or those that say they have supernatural powers. However, rational people do sometimes ignore the apparent irrational nature of reality.  The only difference between magic and the way that a magnet works is; we are used to the magnet and can predict its behavior. Many of us seem to think that because some phenomena is described accurately by science then it cannot be magical.  Well, I think that the line between reality and whatever we used to call ‘magical’ is starting to get blurry. Whenever we push matter to its extremes, we discover weird, completely un-intuitive phenomena. If things go very fast, time slows down. If things get very hot or cold, matter changes form and starts to display completely different behavior. When things get together and increase in mass the very fabric of space starts to bend. Our understanding of how this happens is still not complete, but even if it was, it doesn’t make it any less magical.

Just imagine explaining to someone  1000 years ago that we  will be able to fly, communicate at the speed of light and  travel to other planets. They would think you’re insane. They would think that this very device that you’re using is a magical object and that you’re a witch/wizard. Even though we sort of scoff at thoughts like that and think of it as simply ignorant, it’s really not. The irony is that it actually is magical. We simply accept this form of magic as science and the other form of magic as well…nonsense. What we appear to be doing is just pushing the linguistic goal post further. Today space flight, black holes, satellites, touch-sensitive devices  and esoteric objects like electrons are considered normality.

Now, I keep using the word magic even though I know how ridiculous it sounds. But that is sort of the point. Reality is completely ridiculous. The more I learn about it, the less it makes sense and the more I am in awe at how completely and utterly strange it is. In fact, whatever we think of as magic pales in comparison to what we understand about the world.  Learning about ourselves and the cosmos is truly wonderful. Trying to escape from Plato’s cave is something I think we should all endeavour to do, because trying to understand the nature of the world is just another way for us to understand ourselves.

Being Yourself.

Stellar Sparklers That Last                    Source:

We don’t want to be naked. We all appear to walk around with both physical and psychological clothes on. We’re afraid of what others might think of us. Even when we externally portray ourselves as people without the need of others approval. Yet, here we are, manipulating our pictures, micromanaging our relationships, editing our status updates.

We’re social creatures and we don’t want to be rejected. We need social acceptance. We urge to feel like we’re giving value. Everyone wants to contribute to a world that is so hugely complicated that it overwhelms us. It’s not good enough to simply live. We need to live lives that are exciting. We find the need to capture every moment on camera in order for us to remember that moment existed. We crave the likes that we get on social media. People will act as though this isn’t true, that they are different, that they don’t require social validation. They deny that they are human beings. They deny their nature.

Everyone needs some sort of reaction. Everyone needs  their existence to be acknowledged. This is why being lonely is so difficult. This is why being in solitary confinement is considered a form of torture.

We are all scared of losing those that we love when we truly express ourselves. We don’t buy the idea that they give us unconditional love. It would seem that everything is conditional. The condition is that we act in the way that we’re expected to act. To follow the rules set forth by those that came before us. When we break those rules, it is seen as treason. Why do we get to break those rules? Why do we get to be the ones that run free and wild. It is as though everyone really wishes they could do it themselves, but don’t have the courage to say and do what they please. They are too addicted to comfort. Addicted to the world that they live in. It is no way to be alive if your life is not a spectrum of expression.

You should aim to just be whatever you want to be. To cut away your name, religion, identity and any other abstraction that limits you through your cultural conditioning. Say fuck you to cultural conditioning. You don’t have to do what they say you have to do. Quit your job. Stop smoking. Change and adapt. Swear. Run. Fuck. Fall in love.  Become whoever you need to become.

You’re not a bad person for not always doing the right thing. As a matter of fact, no one really knows what the ‘right’ thing is. But they will tell you they do. They will lecture, and talk and talk. Don’t listen. You don’t have to take it from them. Find out for yourself. Make the mistakes. They are yours to make.

We’re living in a dream. A dream that goes on and on. Never ending, always changing. That’s why being you is important. You is all that is. You can’t be anything else but yourself. You can’t act and be someone else forever. Might as well say all the things you feel like saying, walk around naked and see yourself as you truly are. This beaming ape like thing, walking on two legs. This collection of atoms and molecules, and stardust. Whatever scale you want to view yourself from. Whatever angle you look, it’s all you. Wonderful you.

Living without Purpose.

A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory onboard is seen in this long exposure photograph. Source:

This is a hard thing to do. Most of the time, we want to be productive members of society, and accepting that we do not appear to have any grand cosmic purpose tends to engage the brakes on that endeavor. Unless you’re part of an organized religion or believe in the notion of a higher purpose then you’ll struggle with being a creature without purpose. I believe that this is one of the hardest aspects of leaving a religion and being an atheist (in the strictest sense of that word). The world is so large and complicated that we really find ourselves lost in the ‘happening’ of it all.

As we live through our days and nights, things just appear to happen to us. Most of the events going on in the world is completely outside our control. We do not choose when or where we are born, what family and culture we are born into or when and how we die. In some sense, the most important aspects of our lives are seemingly decided by random processes that no one has control over. That being said, we can still make decisions and guide our actions to impact our lives in such a way that we subjectively feel as though we have free will. This is tricky. I am still unsure whether the concept of free will is itself an illusion or that there is some truth to it. Regardless of the actual objective truth of the matter, we go about most of our lives believing we have the power to change the world and ourselves. I don’t think this is a bad thing. We are constantly trying to improve our own lives (and hopefully) the lives of others.

The problem however, does creep up on us when we get lost in the need to constantly do things that have some sort of purpose. To simply do something for its own sake is very difficult. This is exactly what meditation is. An act which has no beginning or end. The point of meditation is not to be doing anything. Meditation has no point. It is one of the very few things in life that are purposeless. This is a hard concept to grasp. Eastern philosophy is actually used to this idea, but in our modern fast paced world, purposeless behavior is looked down upon. It is viewed as a waste of our most precious commodity. Time. Just to clarify, purposeless behavior is very rare. Any act that is consciously done for the purpose of obtaining pleasure or avoiding pain should be considered purposeful behavior. This means getting drunk, eating food, having sex or doing almost anything is purposeful.

We humans are very peculiar creatures. We seem to be the only organisms that struggle with just being what we are. I think the key word here is being. What does it mean to just ‘be’ what we are? We should not be limited or defined by the things that we do. Doing and being are completely different ways of existing.

I don’t think we’re even sure how humans are supposed to behave. Animals in general don’t appear to struggle with this at all. They just are. A cat does not look like it’s struggling with being a cat. It doesn’t seem to worry about doing things that improve itself or the world. It does cat like things without much consideration for the purpose of doing those things.  I think children have the same attitude. If you take the time to observe a child playing, you’ll see what I mean by being as opposed to doing. The child does not start running around the house, screaming and laughing for any particular reason. It’s not doing it because it’s the right thing to do, or in order to exercise, or even to gain the attention of the parents. The child behaves in a way that just comes naturally.

That is not to say that a child never does things for a purpose (we know they do, especially as they get older), but it does engage in behavior that is seemingly pointless. It is just being a child. It follows its natural instincts and appears to be completely content with that. It’s not trying to reach some higher aim or fulfill a higher purpose. Sure, it avoids pain and gravitates towards pleasure, but the point is that the child is not really thinking about the purpose of the action.

What I am trying to get to is that as we get older, we become obsessed with achieving our goals and desires and start living life for a single (or even multiple) purpose. We somehow forget that we are not alive to become productive members of society, to achieve our goals and die with the knowledge that we did good in the world. As great as those things are, they all entail us doing something to justify our existence. But we don’t need to do anything to justify our existence. In the same way that a tree, or a bird or a star exists, so do we. We are creatures that have evolved and developed from nature. We are not living as a means to an end. Life itself is the end. Being alive and experiencing life without any need for a purpose can be very liberating. To remember that we can be alive as a human-being and not a human-doing is important. It’s important because the act of simply being allows us to be present, and it is only when we are present that we are having the experience of being alive.

And so it begins…

President Richard M. Nixon and the Apollo 13 crew salute U.S. flag during the post-mission ceremonies at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Source:

“Economy, growth, GDP, hardworking people, immigration, balanced and fair”.

These generic terms are almost always used by the most powerful icons that we have today. Politicians. It is interesting (and frustrating) to watch the parade of simplistic ideas discussed Ad nauseam, between people who we perceive as important actors, actors that are playing roles in the same old tired play. We already know the ending. Party A wins marginally against Party B, leaving Party C, D and E to share whatever is left of the vote. The ideas that are presented to solve all our problems seem to consistently depend on very simple solutions that have been neglected by the previous ruling entity. “Of course they were doing it wrong!” the current group of people running the show seem to always be doing it wrong.

When observing the hysteria from a neutral perspective, it becomes abundantly clear why the socioeconomic machine is running itself into the ground. It has been running on fuel that is based on a complicated mixture of fear, xenophobia, ignorance, attachment, arrogance and a multitude of other elements, which have been understood to be useless for an evolved society. It is to be expected that ape like beings struggle to create a world in which everyone can live happily. It is actually very impressive that we have come as far as we have in such a relatively short amount of time. Sometimes we need to give credit where it’s due. Yes, we can pat ourselves on the back for creating a society that has become so complex, we are unable to understand how to operate it anymore. We just can’t keep track of all the different switches that need to be set. Yes, that’s a good analogy. Let’s run with that one.

It looks like we have a gigantic wall, where we need to set thousands of switches to the correct position, while having lost the manual and arguing about whether the first three switches should be set to ‘ON’ or ‘OFF’. We manage to huddle together and elect a few of our fellow apes to decide which way the three switches should be set. The apes selected happen to be the most dominant ones in the group. These apes manage to beat their chest the loudest and thus, are the best candidates to decide how to run the machine. When they finally turn the switches in an arbitrary direction, the machine appears to make a grunting noise and operate worse than before. All the apes now start screaming. When they finally calm down, they decide to solve the problem by doing exactly the same thing again, hoping that whoever beats their chest really hard should be able to solve the problem.

There is no simple solution. It appears that each person in society has chosen a switch to care about. Feminism, immigration, climate change, privacy. All these topics are discussed in public with no real depth of understanding. Audiences are asked to give their ignorant opinion on a topic that they feel represents their most immediate problem. The feeling that their opinion matters allows them to form an illusion of control over a world that is inherently uncontrollable. The amount of time they have spent productively studying the topic looks like it can be counted in the minutes if not seconds. This is not to say that they are bad people, or ignorant in every respect. It just so happens that they are expected to understand and have an opinion about issues that far exceed their practical capabilities. No one can understand national or international issues and their implications without putting in the appropriate legwork.

The issues we are presented with might indeed have an effect on our lives, but that does not mean that we ought to have a strong opinion about them. I am not implying that we should be apathetic to the topic at hand, but it does mean that we need to be humble and recognize that we really are in over our heads on most things. There are very few things that we should have strong opinion about. We should have an opinion about who we love, what we work on, what food to eat and maybe whatever topic we decided to study for a large part of our lives. To give a practical example, consider someone with a PhD in a specific field such as nuclear physics. This person can be expected to have a valid opinion on policy regarding the nuclear program, or how to run a physics lab, or maybe even how the universe could have formed. That being said, this person should not be involved in making decisions that might affect something like improving food safety, or running hospitals more efficiently. Unless they are a very special breed of human, they probably have not done the work needed to understand these issues. Every individual is limited, and it would seem nonsensical to place single individuals to solve problems they will undoubtedly be unable to handle.

Isn’t this exactly how we are running our society? The common person’s opinion should not matter. This is a big statement and many people will take it as a way into communism, fascism or some other  -ism. But it should be entirely clear that giving weight to the opinion of anyone ignorant on a particular topic is a bad idea. The question is, how can we run this complex society without involving the democratic process directly? Well, we already do in many ways. There is no clear democratic process that decides that scientific facts are true. Something like man made climate change is not a controversial topic among scientific circles because the evidence has the final say. Our world runs on scientific consensus. The reason your car tires are a certain size, or the value of voltage on your electricity outlet is deemed to be a certain number is not random. These things are based on research done by many people, working together to form a standard that is deemed appropriate. These standards change based on new information, and in this way things improve.

There are of course institutions that are trusted to be the authority on these issues, not because of common people voting, but because of the decisions made by people who are experts in their field. In cases where there is not enough information, something like a voting system might be implemented, but only by members of that institution who are qualified to vote on the topic at hand. These people have no authority in voting for other issues outside what they have been known to understand well.

This way of thinking is disregarded by many because it is viewed as authoritarian (it’s not), or dangerous for the wellbeing of the general population. The interesting thing here is the fact that the vast majority of products and services that allow our civilization to run is managed by these independent institutions. We all rely on and tend to easily accept the authority of non-elected institutions as they run our planes, cars, electronics, medical services and almost all our infrastructure. The problem that people have with these ideas tend to appear when we consider topics that individuals feel like they should have an opinion on. These topics are considered controversial and are constantly rehashed by the media. We already know the names of these issues. Immigration, terrorism, war, taxes, education and so on. Whenever anyone starts a conversation on one of these issues, it is almost guaranteed someone will get upset or precious time will get wasted on verbal diarrhea. It seems like there is no end to the confusing amount of information, fabricated facts, plain lies, white lies, half-truths, appeals to authority, and countless other logical fallacies.

It is however clear that right answers do exist for these issues as well. The problem is that these issues are brought into the public domain where it is assumed that they belong. It is clear that these issues do not belong in the public domain. Why? Because they are issues that cannot be fixed by a simple one-liner on some party’s manifesto.  There are ways to address these issues and the public can be involved, but not by voting for some political ideal. Like all other major problems, they need a large group of people to work on the problem and find a solution that causes the least damage and makes the most sense based on the information at hand. Political ideals are very rarely needed. It appears that we forget that we’re supposed to be on the same team. There is no ‘other side of the aisle’. We are all on one side.

The best case that represents many so called ‘controversial’ issues and the underlying mechanism that allows them to cause problems, is given by the famous government sacking of Professor David Nutt. In this case, there was no real controversy.

David Nutt is a British psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist, specializing in the research of drugs that affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety and sleep. He was appointed as chairman on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in 2008. In 2009 he was dismissed (and many of his colleagues resigned) mainly because the ACMD found evidence that alcohol could be objectively rated worse than most other drugs in terms of harm to the individual and to society as a whole. None of the research that was carried out was found to be scientifically controversial and appeared to align well with what is known about all the substances that were measured. This research can be viewed as the final nail in the coffin for the ‘War on Drugs’ and the completely illogical laws surrounding the sale and consumption of many (legal and illegal) drugs.

The interesting thing about this case is that all of the elements that is supposed to run government, and by extension our society, failed. The evidence provided by the ACMD was not only clear, objective and scientifically accurate. It was also completely relevant to the wider population and directly influenced government policy. It was the perfect test case to see if real change was possible using the normal means of governing. And, as expected, the system of governance failed the test. After that incident, there was no going back. It became clear that even in the best case scenario, when a complex problem can actually be addressed, it won’t be. Simply because fundamentally, the authority is given to a small group of people whom should not have it in the first place.

And by what mechanism do they get this authority? Through the democratic process of course. The case just mentioned should matter to you whatever your opinions on the drugs laws are, because in this case, the failure to take the advice of the ACMD and subsequent sacking of David Nutt is a direct violation of the trust that the public places in the hands of government. Whether or not certain drugs should be legal or illegal is not some inherent subjective question. It is a question that can be quantitatively answered. In this case, the final say on the matter should lie well within the arms of the medical and wider scientific community. Just to emphasize this point, understand that the public, politicians, the prime minister, parents, business people, nuclear physicists and ‘that bloke down the road’ should not be deciding what the legal status of these substances should be. This is true for other topics such as climate change or immigration. It should not be up to the public or government to decide whether climate change is man-made or if increasing immigration is a bad idea (and don’t worry, I am not equating the two problems). The final authority should be placed within independent institutions that are made up of people whom are considered the best among us in their respective field.

There is no point in voting and engaging in a system that fundamentally can’t change. We as a collective shouldn’t expect the government to tackle complex issues such as war, immigration, the economy or anything important because they aren’t trained to do that. They aren’t elected to manage and solve these issues. They are elected to keep things running just well enough to stop chaos on the streets. But we’re evolving and we need to create a world where fear of instability is replaced by confidence in each other and our ability to collectively create a brighter future.

The influence of Icons.

President Obama Meets With Crew of Apollo 11 Source:

We see them on all our screens. TV, laptop, tablet and phone. These are people who we as a collective, have decided are worth our continued attention. The nature of an icon is very interesting because it spans nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, location and time period. Big names like Gandhi, Hitler, Kim Kardashian or Bill Gates are instantly recognisable. How much we actually know about them, what role they play and if they are ethical or not is in some sense irrelevant. Certain people for one reason or another have become a meme of their own. The culture that we live in has generated and is spreading a certain version of these people. A version that they themselves can’t control. It’s difficult to say exactly why this happens and what the effect it has on the world (and us as individuals), but the fact that a child birth can have worldwide media attention is peculiar to say the least. I am of course talking about Prince George or the ‘Royal Baby’. Kate Middleton and Prince William’s son. If we just think through the facts of that event, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the media world is completely insane. A woman gave birth. Actually, that is even more interesting than what really happened. Let me go into further detail. A white, healthy, wealthy woman, part of the British royal family continued the 1000 year long lineage by giving birth to yet another person. What happened is exactly what we expected to happen. Yet, somehow the worlds media decided it was important enough to cover the hospitalisation of a pregnant woman for at least 24 hours, and then subsequently comment about how the baby indeed looks like a baby.

This icon obsession that we have does not always have to be an international affair. We all have many personal, but less known icons. There are certain people we admire and respect but have never met. We could be following their work for years, and have them impact our lives immensely, yet we don’t really know who they are. It is a common occurrence when you meet someone you admire and realise that they aren’t so different from you. They are, after all, human. This realisation also occurs when you grow up and start to see your family members as people. As individuals with their own flaws, hopes and dreams. Many of us can recollect times when we finished school and saw a teacher in the ‘real world’. Then it suddenly hits you, they are normal people and not just authority figures. They want to get drunk, do drugs and have sex just like everyone else.

It appears that we create memes of people who we have decided act as an authority figure on any given subject. Once we decide to place a person on an authoritarian pedestal, we instantly simplify that person. We remove ambiguities with their views and personality, then finally create a meme that is more easily spread around and digested. I think that the spread of iconic memes is probably related to our evolutionary history. The creation and adherence to the word of the icon is probably one of the many reasons that allow our species to be successful. The fact that we pay attention to people whom other people consider intelligent or wise will in general help us both individually and as a collective. Taking what Mahatma Ghandi says seriously is a very good idea, but of course following Hitler is not. I think this is the crux of the problem with the creation of any icon. They are relatively easy to make and spread, but can potentially be extremely dangerous and hard to remove. They enter our collective consciousness, and depending on the effect of the meme, it can either expand or contract it.

Our minds are lazy and make us inherently susceptible to the creation of icons. This bias that we have is being constantly challenged by both reality and the scientific method. The scientific method appears to be the only instrument of thought that we have created to dispel the illusion that the icon meme creates. It does this by creating an algorithm whereby the only memes that are accepted into the scientific library are the ones that can be objectively verified. Authority is meaningless when it comes to scientific ideas. Now the algorithm that the scientific thought implements is not perfect, and sometimes bad memes do enter. These memes can cause major disasters, and compromises the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise. However, there are defence mechanisms in place that can combat these memes. To give an example of this, consider the idea called “spooky action at a distance”. This was a phrase coined by Einstein that referred to a prediction in quantum mechanics, implying information could be transferred faster than the speed of light.  According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. This is not a simple statement that Einstein had made. General relativity is extremely accurate and reflects most of what we understand about the large scale universe today. Einstein was of course a major contributor to the advance of physics, and his opinion about matters of physics were taken very seriously. However, this is completely irrelevant when it comes to science. What counts is evidence, and even if one of the most brilliant scientist that have ever lived thinks that an idea is wrong, his opinion has no bearing on what is accepted as fact in the scientific community. In the end, quantum mechanics was shown to be extremely accurate in its own predictions, and Spooky action at a distance or “quantum entanglement”, appears to be how reality (at least on the small scale) works.

The question is then, how can we as individuals protect ourselves from the illusions that icons create. How can we truly be independent from the influence of negative icons? I think the answer lies somewhere in the way science deals with them. We need to create mental auto-correcting meme detectors that can reject bad thoughts and let in good ones. To put it simply, we need to acquire better critical thinking skills. Whenever an icon is presented to us, we need to try our best to analyse their ideas simply based on their reflection of reality, and not the relation to the icon producing them. We also need to find ways to remove dangerous memes that have passed through our mental barriers. A good way to do that might be to re-asses on a regular basis whatever basic assumptions that are being made and see if these truly fit with reality. This way of thinking is not easy and since our brains are naturally lazy, it might not be intuitive for us to think like that.

The only thing we truly have is our own minds, and if we want to stay happy in this world, we need to protect them and make sure they are not easily manipulated or damaged.


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It’s hard being a Person.

What is it like being a Person? This question is difficult to tackle because it is by its very nature a subjective idea. Being a person seems to be a distinctly human quality. It encapsulates the experience of being ‘you’. As I am sitting here writing these thoughts in my head, I am very much aware of being aware. Of being myself. I think everyone has access to certain moments, when you realise that what you are, is more like a collage of experiences and ideas, rather than a single unified object. The understanding that you have of yourself appears to be related to your name, your credentials, your job, your family and so on. It is the history of your existence that has created the ego that you call ‘I’. But with some contemplation you can break down the ideas that you have about yourself and in some way bypass the ego. You already know that you’re playing a character. Your behavior is constantly changing depending on what situation you find yourself in. Your thoughts are always re-visiting old memories and projecting both positive and negative events into the future.

Most of the time, you are doing, saying and thinking a certain way to protect whatever identity you have created for yourself. You might see yourself as a confident and social person, or the introvert that doesn’t like people, or the activist, the scientist, the religious person and so on. When thinking about the different aspects of your personality, it might become somewhat obvious, that you are not really any of these things. Your identity is simply a mask that you constantly wear so that you don’t feel scared of the reality of the situation. And what is the reality of the situation? You have no idea who you are, what you are and what life is all about. However, you look around and everyone is acting completely normal. You think to yourself that they must know what is going on right? Well, they don’t. No one does. The more you learn, the more you come to understand how everyone is holding onto certain belief systems. They are creating a coherent story of themselves and the world around them. And like most stories, they are not actually true.

It is very difficult to escape from the familiarity of being a Person. Of being You. Meditation and certain drugs help in this respect, but in general, it is difficult to shake off the illusion that you have created for yourself. The pain that you have suffered in the past, your problems, your thoughts and dreams and whatever you use to define yourself. These things are all putting you at the center of your subjective universe. It is really all about you isn’t it? Even the anxiety and dread that you have for the death of loved ones can be traced back to what it would mean to you. How you will be alone, or how you will miss them and how your other family members will suffer. When we break the illusion of being a person, we can in some way appreciate the world in a deeper sort of level. Things become less personal. You stop seeking to avoid pain or obtain pleasure, and simply exist in a world that is endlessly fascinating.

Being a person is hard because it requires you to have an identity that needs to constantly be maintained. Every single event in your life is processed in such a way that relates to you. When someone for example says something mean to you, or when you are not being successful in whatever field you have chosen, that damages the coherent story that you have created for yourself. Suddenly, you start to question whether the identity you have created for yourself is valid. This requires you to either discard that identity or find evidence for its validity and hence risk causing even further damage.  It doesn’t help that the current media exploits the need for an identity and constantly tries to make you identify with whatever product or service they are selling.

Politicians want you to identify with their particular ideology in order for you to vote for them and keep the current socioeconomic system running. Some people go to the other extreme, where they only identify with conspiracy theories and decide that everyone else happen to be ‘Sheeple’ and don’t know the so-called ‘truth’. The problem is that whatever meme is generated and passed around, it can only represent a caricature of reality.

Things are almost never simple and straightforward, and a lot of what you believe to be correct is probably wrong. It takes a lot of mental energy to remove the mask of identity and see the world the way it actually is, because at that point, there are no filters that can block the vast amounts of conflicting information. Not only are you going to struggle to process all the information that is coming in, but you can get overwhelmed by the shear volume of information that you will never be able to processes in the first place. It is completely impossible for you to read and understand every single book ever published. Actually, even if you were able to read and understand every single book ever published, you would still be unable to fully understand the world, as the sum of human knowledge does not come close to describing the world in all its detail. With the tiny fraction of information that you have, you are expected to act decisively every single day. At the same time, since you presumably live in a democracy, you are pressured to vote on topics that you can’t possibly understand. The modern world is so complicated that your ape brain simply can’t keep up.

This is one of the many reasons that I think we all have an identity that we cling onto for dear life. It might even be a survival mechanism for us to simply stay sane in an insane world. But I do think there is a way to remove this filter created by our identity and still function in the world. We can try to do this by learning to accept uncertainty. We need to be humble enough to know that our understanding of the world is extremely limited and try to process as much information as we can without a biased point of view. If we can remove ourselves from the center of our own universes, we might be able to also remove the need for an identity in the first place, and observe the world the way it really is. We can maybe then, see a glimpse who we are, what we are and where we are going.


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Meme Generators and Information Overload.

Super View of Glendale and Phoenix
Image Source:

Imagine this scene. A middle-aged man, sitting on his couch, next to him his similarly aged wife. Behind them you can see pictures of their little family. They have two kids, a boy and a girl. The picture is showing them at some birthday party, probably the girls’ birthday party. The wallpaper in the background is white, with a pattern showing little blue squares. Everything appears perfectly normal, other than the fact that you notice the couple are not really talking. The expression on their face is that of mild concentration. They do smile from time to time, and might be saying a few words to each other, but are both mainly staring away, towards a central location. They appear content in some way. You keep watching them and notice that they must have been sitting there for at least two hours. Whatever is capturing their attention must be very powerful.

No one can really sit still for that period of time without doing anything. I mean, unless they are in some deep meditation, otherwise it is pretty hard to sit still. People generally get bored and restless unless something is capturing their attention. Whatever this thing is, it must be pleasurable as well. Humans are constantly seeking pleasure and this couple appears to be receiving it. Could they be high on a drug?

The camera zoomed out and the scene has now expanded. The answer has become obvious. Yes, they are on a drug. A very specific kind of drug. They are being exposed to an electronic meme generator. A TV. Why do I call TV a drug? Well a drug is a physical substance that is able to modify your biochemistry. In this case, the TV is able to change your biochemistry trough rapidly changing patterns of light. Your brain is essentially being introduced to specific memes through your eyes. It is modulating your thoughts in real-time. Through this modulation, it can alter your view of reality.

As the camera zooms out further, the scene now covers an entire apartment block. You can see that in almost every flat, people are sitting and watching these meme generators. Of course they aren’t just TV’s. They are staring at laptop, phone and tablet screens. In essence, this means that all over this planet, people’s view of reality is being modulated by the memes that they are exposed to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the relatively recent introduction of mass media has had a profound effect on how people view the world. As you are reading these very words, your view of reality is being changed.

This has to be taken seriously. The memetic lenses that you observe the world through does in some way define how you relate to yourself, other people and society at large. If you sit at home and watch an hour of E!, being exposed to how Kim Kardashian deals with her daily life, or getting updated on the most recent celebrity scandal, then those become the major memes that guide your life.

This aspect of modern living is in some ways hard to address because its impact is not immediately clear. It can be compared to smoking cigarettes. Having one or two cigarettes is really not going to do much damage to you, but over an extended period of time, it can become lethal. Although the exposure to memes can have a negative influence on your life, they can also be used to enhance it immensely. There is no debate that the advent of the Internet has advanced society in a way that was simply not possible in the past. I think of it as the great equaliser of memes, because it is able to give every meme a chance to propagate itself. The environment that the Internet has created for the free exchange of information, regardless of the content, is truly one of the hallmarks of our age. It has become a vital tool that can support and empower individuals to conquer ideas previously unchallenged. But of course, the darker side of this technology is found within its very nature. Because there is no discrimination on the quality and type of memes that are propagated, we can be exposed to negative and disempowering memes.

Because this technology is a new part of our culture, we have yet to evolve or invent new defense mechanisms to deal with the negative memes that it creates. These negative and low quality memes can range from cute puppies and kittens, to celebrity gossip, through to conspiracy theories, pseudo-science propaganda, including false and dangerous ideologies (both religious and non-religious). The negative memes (nemes for short) take advantage of our more primal and subconscious urges. They make use of our ‘lazy’ subconscious mind, as it tends to gravitate towards a simplistic view of the world and of complex issues. We urge for a quick answer, solution and preferably a picture instead of text. We even have shorthand notation for the fact that we just didn’t want to read a long piece of text (Too long, didn’t read – tl;dr). Our minds are naturally inclined to pay attention to negative information rather than positive information (for good evolutionary reasons) and this paints a picture of the world that is both dark and inaccurate.

Additionally, the nemes are very good at protecting themselves from being attacked and replaced by other memes. They appear to do this by latching onto a persons mind, and subsequently blocking the introduction of any facts that oppose the description of reality that the neme is producing. There are many examples of these nemes, but a particularly clear example is given by the anti-vaccine movement. Here we have a group of people who believe that vaccines are bad for a range of religious and pseudo-scientific reasons. Some believe that vaccines are OK, but that children are given too many, or that vaccines are not needed, because they do not see clear evidence that a certain disease will kill their child. Others mistrust the companies that produce the vaccines and think that the vaccines might cause other problems such as autism.

The problem here is not that these people have concerns about the drugs that their children might get, but rather they mistrust the facts that are presented to them. They seem to lack the defence mechanisms that cause other people to change their minds. The ability to think critically and evaluate scientific evidence is a very powerful tool that is used to filter out bad ideas, and these people seem to lack these tools. The anti-vaccine neme has exploited the weak mental defences that those people have and thus, it becomes very difficult to remove.

The problem that this neme has on the world is now significant. Recent outbreaks of almost extinct diseases have created a significant problem for the medical community. The problems caused by the propagation of nemes on the internet goes much further than this example, and includes the spread of radical ideas such as The ‘War on Drugs’, The ‘War on terror’ and extreme versions of religious and secular ideologies. The point to recognise here is that all these nemes have been both spread and countered by the availability of the internet, and the new media in general.

I think that it is important to protect ourselves from the nemes that are being spread around, and the first step in doing that is to actually admit that we are susceptible to their effects. It is very important that as you are reading this blog, you are able to take something of value from it. This means that you need to engage your conscious mind, and  assess what nemes might have infected you. What beliefs do you hold that are very dear to you? Is your particular religion, scientific understanding and general world view accurate? Is your position on issues regarding your physical and mental health clear?

I am asking you these questions directly because they will undoubtedly affect the way you see and behave in the world. If your view of the general population is self-interested, hedonistic and immoral, then that picture of the world might be created by one or many different nemes. How confident are you about issues surrounding what is right and wrong, or good or bad? Are drugs bad? Is sex bad? Is gay sex bad? Again, if these questions cause you to jump to a conclusion, then chances are that you need to assess your reasons very carefully. Start by assuming that you are wrong. Then go from there.

Finally, as you spend your day surfing the web, going on Facebook and reading the news, make sure that you are aware of the impact that these memes are having on you. Be very critical of what you let into your mind, and try to gather as many positive memes (pemes) as you can. This means that in the same way that you go to the gym to stay healthy and exercise, make sure that you listen, watch and read content that gives your mind some exercise. You don’t have to be a scientist to watch lectures on physics, biology and chemistry. You can watch videos on how the universe is created, how consciousness might work and what some of the most intelligent people alive have said about life in general. You only have this very moment to be alive, and whatever you decide to expose yourself to, make sure it is worth it. Because in the end, your mind is all you have, so make sure you protect it.


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Lost in Language.

Words. Words words words. Words. They lose their meaning when you say them many times. I mean, you don’t even have to say them out loud for them to lose their meaning. Try to say the word ‘meaning’ to yourself 20 times and see what happens. Seriously, try it.  It sort of sounds like ‘Me-ning’ right? Well, I think when you say ‘meaning’ many times, you are able to temporarily break the illusion of its conditioned meaning (ironically). When a word has lost its meaning, then what you actually hear is purely the sound of the word. You can simply observe how your mouth moves as you say it (if you’re saying it out loud), and for a moment you are not attached to the word.

If you are saying it to yourself then you observe the syntax of the word. Just the way the word is structured. You can see how arbitrary it is. If you can speak multiple languages you might have an edge on this, because you can switch between saying the same word in two different languages and recognize that they are both so arbitrary. They represent some other entity in different ways. This is made more clear when you first learn a word in a different language. Initially, it means nothing. It points to nothing. It’s just a sound. But then, slowly over time, after associating the word with different contexts and emotions, it starts to describe some entity in the world. More specifically, your world.

Terence Mckenna has talked about language a fair amount, and the inspiration for this post is partly based on one of his talks. Indeed the very title of this post is identical to a video that was released on Youtube. One particularly enlightening part of his speech is as follows:

A child, lying in a crib. And a humming bird comes into the room and the child is ecstatic, because this shimmering iridescence  of movement and sound and tension, it’s just wonderful. I mean it is an instantaneous miracle when placed against the background of the dull wallpaper of the nursery and so fourth. But then mother, or nanny or someone comes in and says “It’s a bird baby, it’s a bird, bird”. And this takes this linguistic piece of mosaic tile and places it over the miracle, and glues it down with the epoxy of syntactical momentum. And from now on, the miracle is confined within the meaning of the word. And by the time the child is four, or five or six.  No light shines through, they have tiled over every aspect of reality, with a linguistic association that blunts it, limits it, and confines it within cultural expectation. But this doesn’t mean that this world of signification is not outside, still existent, beyond the horizons, the foreshortened horizons of a culturally validated language.   

I think it is right here where the crux of the illusion lies. We humans have evolved the ability to talk in order to survive, but the side effect of this ability is a loss of our direct experience. We create stories and attach labels to things in order to make sense of the world. We create shortcuts and abbreviations so that we can communicate faster. But with faster communication we convey less information about the very thing we are describing. Think about this my anonymous reader; what would it be like if you were called something else. What if your name was only slightly different?. How would people have reacted to you, how would you have felt if it was much more common, or much more rare? What if your name was Spanish, or Arabic?

I think that analyzing our name from an objective point of view can give us a insight into how our minds work and the identity that we are holding onto. Think about it.  How much do you identify with your own name, your label. You know intellectually that you are not your name. You are not your degree, your interest or your family. You are not ‘that guy’ or ‘that girl’. When you are alone, you probably have an idea of how you present yourself in front of other people.  Of course, everyone presents themselves in front of others. But the way you present yourself is not who you really are. As Richard Alpert once said:

I wasn’t born as Richard Albert. I was just born as a human being. And then I learned this whole business of who I am, and whether I’m good or bad, or achieving or not. All that’s learned along the way.

When you find those moments of insight, when you ‘lose yourself’ in your work, or on that bus ride, or on that hiking trip, you’re not really being lost. You are actually shedding all the labels about who you think you are, and what other people have labelled you as. You are more ‘you’. This is a hard thing to do though. We are all chasing a career, or a skill or an identity. This is not always such a bad thing, but if we spend our lives worrying about the identity we want to uphold,  then we might not get the chance to simply be the person that we are. It is great that you’re always trying to become a better person, but when are you just enjoying the fact that you are already a good person?

The language we speak and the words that we have in our internal dictionaries will paint a world for us that will always be an approximation of what our direct experience actually is like. This point becomes obvious when you try to explain to a loved one how much you care for them. It is next to impossible. How can you really express the emotions that you have for someone when you only have access to words like love, passion, enjoyment, ecstasy,  euphoria and so on.  You might resort to other ways of expressing that love, using gifts, hugs, sex and the list goes on. The reason I think we express our emotions through material objects is because we are lost for words.

We want to give our loved ones something they can see and not simply hear. Yes, language can be a limiting factor in the way we see the world. As I am writing this, I can only partially express my emotions and my view of reality.  The enterprise of language reaches its limits when we want to show each other something that only one of us have experienced. This is why psychedelic trips are hard to describe, this is also why our feelings are hard to describe. We are not living inside each other’s heads and hence can never fully appreciate what is going on there.

There is however a way for us to understand better what the world is actually like, and what our friends and family think. By consciously trying to remove the labels that you have given objects in the world, you might be able to see those objects as they really are. You can appreciate the detail and continuous nature of reality, by silently and presently observing it. Go out. Find your nearest tree. And take a look at it. Take a good long look. Remove the label of ‘tree’ and ‘green’ and ‘brown’. See past the words, they are merely signposts, and start looking at what they are actually pointing at. In a similar way, try to not just hear what your friend, or loved one is saying. Try to actually listen to what they are saying. Focus on removing whatever interpretation you are automatically inclined to use and try to listen with a neutral point of view. Look at the way they their face is changing, the emphasis they put on each letter, word and sentence.

Yes, we are lost in language, but we don’t have to be. With focus and attention, we can break through and see reality the way it really is.


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It’s about Time.

Field of Stars The Hubble Space Telescope captured a crowd of stars that looks rather like a stadium darkened before a show, lit only by the flashbulbs of the audience’s cameras. Yet the many stars of this object, known as Messier 107, are not a fleeting phenomenon, at least by human reckoning of time – these ancient stars have gleamed for many billions of years. Image Source:

Well, isn’t it? Time is one of those concepts that I can’t get my head wrapped around. It appears that even in physics, time is one of those peculiar entities that we all take for granted, but as a concept it is almost intrinsically non-intuitive. To get an idea of how weird time really is, listening to a discussion on this very topic by some of the world’s smartest people is both fascinating and unsettling. Let us analyse the facts at hand and try to see if we can get any insight into what we really mean by time. Now, let’s start with something simple that we tend to use to represent time. A clock. A clock is any device that is able to keep track of moments that have passed in a systematic way. Well, at least that’s my definition of what a clock is. And I sincerely hope that you, my dear reader, will accept this definition.

So from my definition, we can come up with a thought experiment that will shed some light on the matter. Let’s assume that we never invented clocks. In this fantasy world, we can’t really measure time. All we really see are changes. A person living in this world is never late for anything, nor are they early. All they see is a world that is changing. They recognise certain cycles such as the sunrise and sunset. They notice seasons and the slow changing constellations. We may be tempted to imagine that a person living in such a world will use these changes as measures of time. As long as there is a consistent and repeatable change, then that can be used as a clock. But if we assume that those changes are simply recognized as changes and not used to keep track of the months, years, seasons etc, then something interesting happens. Life becomes single continuous moment.

If we all were to stop measuring and noting down all the moments that pass, then we might be able to break the illusion of time that we are spellbound by. I mean, think about it. We can take any moment, and break it down to seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, centuries and millennia. In the world of science we measure things down to milliseconds (a thousandth of a second) or microsecond (a millionth of a second) and so on. We can also measure immensely large time scales, millions, billions and even trillions of years. The problem with all these measurements, or rather the implicit assumption, is that these represent what is actually real. But of course, a second doesn’t actually exist. I mean, a second is an SI unit defined as (found here):

“the duration of 9192631770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom”

This definition is used because it is a very accurate and consistent way of defining the unit. In the past it has been defined to be “1/86,400 of a mean solar day”. So we know that these measurements are arbitrary. In fact, any measurement is arbitrary. It is an abstraction of the way we perceive reality. Now, I am not saying it is not a useful abstraction, but it does not mean it is actually part of what is. So where are we now? Well, it’s in the sentence. It is always now. This concept is very well described in a lecture given by Sam Harris, and he is exactly right. The past does not exist; it is only a thought that appears in your mind. The future is an anticipation, also a thought that appears in your mind. The measurement of time is only arbitrary, and not absolute. It is an abstraction and only exists in our minds.

This understanding is very important to dwell upon. It is important because your view of what time is and how it relates to your life will shape the way you view the world. If life is only a continuous single moment, and time is something that we create for its usefulness, then we need to make sure that we recognize it for what it really is, and let it go when we are not using it. There is no use that you my lovely reader is obsessed about the past or the future, as they don’t exist. There is no use in worrying about growing old or staying young, because these things are simply changes in the world. You are a brief change in the world. You change with relation to other objects in the universe and get scared when the changes happen. But that fear is of course unfounded, because change is what you are in the first place. I hope you are not taking these words as my way of colouring reality, but rather as conclusions that come from what we understand (and more importantly, what you understand) about the world.

The understanding that time is not a concrete concept based on reality can be inferred from Einstein’s general relativity. Now, as a disclaimer, I have to say that I am not a physicist and don’t pretend to understand the theory fully. But certain facts have been confirmed and fairly easily understood for those who care to think about them. According to general relativity, the apparent measurement of time changes depending on the frame of reference of the observer. This idea can get pretty involved, but the gist is that when the frame of reference of one observer is different than another, time appears different for both observers and both times are valid. If I was looking at my watch while sitting in a car driving at 30mph, my clock would go slightly slower than an observer who is standing on the side of the road. In fact, if I were going close to the speed of light, my clock will have almost stopped completely, while the other observers clock will go super fast (relative to each other). In fact, he will age much faster than me. This effect is not just noticeable at such large speeds, but even at relatively normal speeds. GPS satellites move fast enough that this effect is substantial, and needs to be taken into account when we use their data here on earth.

The point I am trying to make with the whole spiel about relativity, is that time is not a straightforward concept. And the key word to emphasize here is that it is a concept. In the same way that electrons and photons (light particles) are concepts. They are more like an analogy of the way reality is, than the way it actually is. Again, it does not mean that any of these concepts are unimportant or not accurate. They are very important and from what we have seen, extremely useful depictions of what reality is. But just like any analogy, they break down.

As you’re mulling over these thoughts, try to think about all the ways in which you thought the world was one way, and found out that you were wrong. Like when you were young and found out how children are born. Or what sex is, or how Santa Claus is not real. All the things you were told were not really true. They were useful and formed a coherent story about the world. They were illusions that were cast upon you until you came to realise that they were not real. The same understanding and illusion breaking can be carried out further. Some people choose to stop at religion and others at science. It is of course up to you my patient reader, where you feel like stopping. It is not always pleasant to find out that Santa Claus is not real, but if you choose to break the spell, then other vistas of beauty can unfold. You can ask questions that you simply did not consider or took for granted previously. If time is not real and life is a moment then what does this mean to you? I can’t really answer that for you, but at least to me, it means that I can look at the world in a way that makes it all the more fun and interesting. If time is not real then I don’t need to stress about what has happened or will happen. I can just be, and so can you.


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