Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Airplane Chatter and the Bar of Belief

I very rarely get chatty with people on airplanes. I am generally nose down in a book or I'm crashed. But this afternoon, for some reason, I got to talking with the guy next to me, and we ended up talking for the entire 80 or so minutes we were in the air. He noticed that I was reading (still reading - it's taking forever, for some reason) Susan Jacoby's, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, so he asked what secularism was. I never got the guy's name, so we'll call him Jimbo (He seemed like a Jimbo to me.).

Jimbo said that he watches "The O'Reilly Factor" and that O'Reilly regularly talks about the war between Judeo Christians and the secularists. He said he'd been wondering what it was and that, since I had a book on it, he figured he'd ask me. So, I explained to him what it meant to be a secularist, and I expressed that I thought O'Reilly's fear that a secular world would be a moral vacuum was overblown. I really expected him to be a Christian, but Jimbo said he wasn't religious, that he just concentrated on being a good person. My kind of guy. So we proceeded to discuss all kinds of topics, and it quickly became apparent to me that Jimbo was two things:

1. An alcoholic
2. Not very discriminating in determining what he believes

I counted five beers on the short ride from Atlanta to Memphis. Now, far be it from me to call someone an alcoholic without cause, but five beers in 80 minutes by yourself on a Sunday night before a work day raises a red flag. Then, after I explained that my wife is in the medical field, he went on to reveal that his doctor told him he has a fatty liver. Yikes - that's the condition that precedes cirrhosis. Anyhow, it was Jimbo's reaction to this news ("Doc says I should stop drinking, but I don't really drink that much."), along with his comments about several other things that led me to believe that he believes what is comforting to him, rather than what makes sense.

For example, Jimbo only drinks "purified water." He says it is "ionized, deionized" (whatever that means). Jimbo says it means they inject extra oxygen into it, which, as everyone knows, is good for you. I asked Jimbo what made him think that was better. I asked him what he thought the primary oxygen in-take mechanism in the human body is. He correctly noted that it was the mouth and the nose. OK, Jimbo, after that. He looked a little puzzled so I helped him out. It's the lungs, buddy. The blood that courses around the lungs is picking up oxygen. The blood cruising around the stomach isn't worried about oxygen, I said. One thing I really liked about Jimbo was that he didn't ever feign certainty. To my comments, he just said, well maybe there's something else going on there. Wisdom comes out of nowhere sometimes.

Jimbo also told me that he has been doing a lot of reading (on the internet) about homeopathic medicine. He explained that pharma companies aren't interested in curing anyone because it cuts into their profits. As I happen to consult in the pharma industry, I took the opportunity to probe a bit further. It seems that Vitamin C is the cure for cancer, but the drug companies have managed to successfully keep that information from the public. So, I asked Jimbo how he came to find out this well-guarded secret. He said he just looked around on the internet. So, I asked why he thought Rathergate exploded through the internet while the cure for cancer sat there, with very little public awareness. He just gave me a quizzical look. I told him that I believe that the personal benefits that await any individual associated with curing cancer would render the cure all but inconcealable. Quizzical again, he said, "Yeah, I guess it's really hard to know what's true and what's not." There's that wisdom again.

When we initially started talking, talking about religion, I explained that believing in religion is expensive, because it forces people to go to a lot of trouble to live a certain way, a way that does not come exactly naturally. I said that if I was going to buy in, it'd take a lot of convincing. He was on board with that. So, as the plane was about to land, I remarked to him that just about any belief has a cost, and that some of things we'd discussed have very serious ones (He said he didn't have much use for regular doctors, especially the one who told him about his fatty liver.). I think he agreed with this, at least in principle. As we parted ways, I asked Jimbo to promise me that, if he ever got cancer, he'd see a doctor AND eat his vitamin C. He smiled and nodded his head as he walked into the bar to catch the last two minutes of the Atlanta/Philly game. Nice guy. Misled, but nice.

As I walked on, all I could wonder was how many Jimbos are out there. How many really cool, really friendly, really ethical people are saddled with an inability to tell truth from fiction? How many people have the best of intentions, the discipline to do what's right, but lack the wisdom to know when their minds are choosing ideas that give them the illusion of control in a chaotic world. (Vitamin C? Purified water?) Whatever the number, it's too high. My quest is enlightenment for the Jimbos of the world. I wonder if he'll think about what we talked about. I know I did.


Blogger Brian Bleakley said...

Great story. It sounds like you might have changed his life (not in some monumental way, but changed) for the better. I think it's fantastic that you can have that kind of influence on someone.

1/24/2005 03:34:00 PM

Blogger blowinmud said...

How are you so sure you aren't the one who can't tell truth from fiction?

1/27/2005 12:02:00 AM

Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

I doubt very seriously that my conversation with Jimbo will reverberate for very long in his mind. Though it may have been interesting, I think he has a pretty deep level of commitment to some of his beliefs, so deep that accepting truth, even when it stares him in the face, may seem too costly. Hopefully not. I wasn't trying to be his counselor. I was just having fun shooting the shit with him. It was only as I walked away from him that I started wondering what our talk meant to him.

"How are you so sure you aren't the one who can't tell truth from fiction?"

I'm not sure, but I'm confident. But hey, in the spirit of intellectual exploration, let's put it to the test. In critically rational terms, the assertion to disprove is that I *can* tell truth from fiction. Care to take a shot?

1/27/2005 01:05:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would strongly suggest that telling the truth from fiction is REALLY REALLY hard. You probably do better than Jimbo on most subjects, but not as well as you think. I would also guess that the discipline to do what's right is rarer than you think. The discipline to mostly do well enough is pretty common, and maybe that's what you are thinking of. If you actually intend to make optimal (rational, moral, whatever) decisions whenever possible, please write to me at prefect23@mail.com I'm looking for such people. Any such person would probably find the time spent learning why to be more valuable than admittedly valuable time spent learning to appreciate one's neighboors on a plane.

1/28/2005 05:03:00 PM

Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"You probably do better than Jimbo on most subjects, but not as well as you think."

Actually, I'm a very good judge of what I know and what I don't know. Or, better said, I think I have a good grip on whether what I know about a particular topic is enough for me to have a justified belief one way or another. You're welcome to test me.

"I would also guess that the discipline to do what's right is rarer than you think."

Really? So you haven't noticed the immensity of the obesity problem in this country? You haven't noticed the vast numbers of folks who are miserable sheerly due to their own inaction in life? Some don't know what to do. Some know what to do and lack the discipline to do it. It's that simple.

"The discipline to mostly do well enough is pretty common..."

Agreed. That doesn't mean folks like Jimbo can't benefit from some insight into critical rationalism and data discernment. I'm not now, nor was I then, trying to come off as some guru of intellectual superiority. But there are some basic concepts that are simply missing in the education of the general population.

"If you actually intend to make optimal (rational, moral, whatever) decisions whenever possible, please write to me at prefect23@mail.com I'm looking for such people."

Optimal is relative, isn't it? I do the best I can. I try to get smarter with every year, and my main tool is the investigation of my mind, what it was designed to do, and how that can be manipulated to meet my objectives in life. Perhaps it is presumptuous to suppose that the insights I believe I'm gaining are worthy of capturing here. They manifest themselves in my opinions - about all kinds of thing. The comments people post are like a vetting process for them. Except of course when people get on me for coming off as a mental snob. To this, I can only say, "you get what you pay for."

1/29/2005 01:28:00 AM


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