Tag Archives: philosophy

Rounding Errors

For as long as I can remember one of my most favorite pastimes has been thinking about god, the universe and everything. Half of the books I read deal with this subject one way or another (the other half is Science Fiction, which often deals with the very same topics). In the past few years there has been a quickening of ideas on various subjects. Probably helped along by the fact that we have a little dog in the house since 2014, who loves to take hikes – and nobody else will take her. Without me noticing at first, many of the seemingly unrelated topics and ideas started getting connected while taking long hikes around our nearby lake.

As an example, as a musician I deal with and practice scales and chords – or, in other terms, the organization of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale into larger structures. In this example it means taking seven of the twelve notes to make more “melodic” sounding scales or tone-rows. The asymmetry of picking seven notes out of 12 equally spaced ones leads to interesting and rich structures by necessity. 

Another fruitful playground are the basic workings of a digital computer. In this very idealized example the whole layer cake of operating systems, various level programming languages and interfaces, GUIs, apps etc. creates an intricate tower of increasing structured abstraction leading to interesting philosophical ruminations.

I finally decided to write this stuff down. But I am not a book author and this is not anything that would be of interest to a serious scientist or a religious person. Somehow I still feel it should be a little more out in the open rather than just fade away in a forgotten Google Doc. And since I don’t think anybody ever comes to this blog it’s perfectly safe….

Why Shouldn’t We All Get Along (with the aliens)?

If you read some of the posts here you might have guessed that I try to be a rational, skeptical, scientifically minded individual. Somebody who has never been to college but realized he probably should have been. This ‘rational’ streak of my life isn’t very old, though. Up until about ten years ago I was into paranormal-UFO-alien-conspiracy stuff – big time. I didn’t exactly know what I was believing. Everything, I guess. Of course that was also the time when the internet started to offer easy access to all sorts of before unseen material – at least unseen by me.

I was raised Protestant. In Germany there were really only two confessions at that time: Catholics and Protestants. Other than the obligatory go-to-bed prayer, school mandated weekly church visits (can you believe that?), and Confirmation at age 14 we were pretty much left alone by our parents’ religion, although my mother was a bit shocked when at age 15 I choose to opt out of religion in school. After I left school and moved out from home religion lost any meaning for me whatsoever. But I slowly started to get interested in ‘the other side’. UFO stories made my ears perk up. When I read my first book about past-life regression I was hooked. In Germany it was still pretty hard to find material to read about all these topics. In the mid 1980’s I read my first Seth book by Jane Roberts. Couldn’t get enough of these.

After moving to the US in 1988 I found there were huge bookstores with hundreds of books covering everything supernatural and metaphysical. We had book stores in Germany but nothing in comparison. Maybe it’s because I am German, but “if it’s in a book,” I thought, “it must be true.” While I was still consuming Science Fiction at an alarming rate my exposure to any real science all but disappeared.
My wife must have thought I was nuts when I was telling her all the strange and outlandish stuff I was learning from this strange literature .

Then, as I mentioned, came the internet. The MJ12 papers. Area 51. Roswell. Conspiracies. When I read Robert Anton Wilson’s  Illuminatus! books there was a slight nudge to becoming a bit skeptical. And then I came across David_Icke’s “…And The Truth Shall Set You Free” and the whole thing blew up in my face. In this whole fabric of UFO reports, conspiracies, alternative realities, whatever, everybody was claiming they were correct and everybody else was wrong. The one claim they all had in common was that scientists were close-minded and didn’t want to hear anything about their lofty claims. It took another year or so for me to make the connection: Why didn’t I believe in a biblical god? Why, again, did I think following religious leaders blindly is foolish? Then I realized that most if not all of these fringe beliefs were just that: beliefs with no substantial proof, based on an individual experience or, even worse, a deliberate deception. Just the same as religious ideology – and I didn’t believe in that. And then all of a sudden I was free!

Another fact had kept bothering me all through my paranormal phase:
I was so eager to experience any supernatural phenomenon, so open to see a UFO, see a ghost or develop my own psychic abilities – but nothing ever happened. I guess I don’t have the ‘gene’.

In short order I became a skeptic. Subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer, started listening to skeptical podcasts and reading science books. It was kinda cool to slowly find out that there were many people like me even though somehow in most personal conversations I just stayed away from the topic of skepticism and atheism – just to be polite.

Then people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins published books about atheism. And they didn’t really take care not to step on anybody’s toes. Harris asks, why can’t people who act on their religious believes held as accountable just as anybody else? Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” accuses parents of indoctrinating their children into their religion and damaging them for life. These authors were expressing what I had been thinking for many years. For a few years I became really mad. Partially that was due to a government which tried to play the religious card whenever possible. Not a Christian? Then you’re not one of us. Makes you feel very welcome indeed.

I have some friends who are Mormon. At least I think so. They never told me. I never asked. Although there were times when I almost did because I was curious. They never tried to convince me to become Mormon. They are very cool, creative people. They show up on time, don’t get drunk on the gig, don’t yell at me. They didn’t ask me if I was an Atheist when I called them for a gig. Who am I to tell them that their belief is ……what? Stupid? Irrational? Old fashioned? Maybe their belief system doesn’t really do that much. They would probably be decent folks without it.

So, then, are there two sorts of religion? The religion people carry inside? Their ‘personal’ belief. Can’t really share it because it may well have been inspired or evolved (snicker) from the other form of religion: the dogmatic sort, the rules imposed from outside for no good reason except that a pope, priest or pastor somehow extracted them from the Bible, the Koran or some other historic text. The kind of religion that the people in high places want to keep the same, absolute, a constant, untouchable. I suppose that the religion people display when they are together in church is not exactly the same thing they feel when they are by themselves.

As I was slowly becoming a skeptic I noticed how hard it was to let go of irrational believes – and it’s incredible how much stuff we accept as real and true that’s actually total bogus and yet it influences our lives in profound ways. Here’s a personal example:
When I was 16 and my guitar playing was slowly becoming presentable to a public I realized that it was also developing into something special: Through it I was able to express my individuality. More importantly, it became my ‘pie-in-the-sky’. If only I could become so good and write so many tunes, etc, one day I would be successful. People would know about me and my music and it would have financial rewards. This became my carrot and my stick. For many years it was almost inconsequential whether my pie-in-the-sky would ever materialize. I can easily imagine that for a religious person Jesus and going to heaven could be their pie-in-the-sky. While my pie essentially came down to earth some years ago – when I noticed that I am playing gigs for people who come to see me play, some buy my CDs with my music on them, and while I am not famous I am well known and recognized locally – the religious ‘pie’ ideally stays in heaven until you die. At least from the outside this looks like a pretty effective carrot (although with many religions it seems more of a stick.)

So, what then am I trying to say?
I just said that I don’t believe in a god – Christian or otherwise. But I also know from first-hand experience that I won’t practice my guitar without having something to practice for. It helps the motivation imagining some huge gig in front of thousands of people – even though that gig will probably never become reality. Hell (no pun intended), it’s next to impossible to get up in the morning without having somewhere to go to or something worthwhile to do. And not to defend organized religion, but they usually do offer you one heck of a benefits package even though I think it’s all made up.

As always, instead of black and white it’s a spectrum of finely shaded colors what people believe in and why. Just don’t come to my door and tell me that your god loves me because he might be a little disappointed.

Auto psycho analysis of a guitar player

This is going to be a very personal item. That doesn’t mean it will contain juicy details or revelations of secret information. It just means it might not interest anybody else but myself – hence the ‘Auto psycho….’.

In my professional life I pretend to be a guitar player – for the past 35 years or so. I can’t believe that myself. If you care to suffer through my long bio you would notice that I never played in a very successful musical group. I also never played music in a highly profitable band – such as a cover band or a wedding band. I am sure that was partially due to my own conviction that my art was somehow ‘pure’, however stupid that sounds (and some of the music that comes out of such a conviction.) And somehow potential employers must have ‘smelled’ that I wasn’t cut out to emulate somebody like a Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton.

So now, after all this time there are close to a thousand tunes I have written, plus about 90 works for Classical Guitar and a handful of quite esoteric CDs I recorded. And there comes a time when one has to figure out why a career went the way it did. When I was still a greenhorn on the guitar but good enough that I didn’t have to think about every note I played, when things started to ‘sink in’, as they say, I was already playing occasional jazz gigs. Jazz mainly because it wasn’t as restricted as most other music styles I knew at the time. I relatively quickly started listening to myself and the band I was with as if I was sitting in the audience. “Would I get bored now by the guitar solo if I was in the audience?” I would ask myself as I was playing. As my abilities developed this avatar of mine, sitting in every audience I played for, started listening to the whole group. And it was greatly influencing what I was playing and many times whom I wanted to play with. This had really two distinct but connected effects:
1) Rather than looking at the actual audience reaction I judged the performance by my avatar’s reaction
2) Since I tried to impress my avatar, and he was me, I really played for myself

In the past years I have often heard from people who come to our concerts that they admire my style. They say I play like nobody else. I don’t know about that but at the same time it’s flattering. I have many influences in my playing and don’t deny that if I hear John Scofield play a cool thing I like I’ll try to figure it out and use it. Obviously my narrow mindedness carries much of the blame that I fail to impress a broader audience – I don’t play for them!

Now, all of this sounds like it’s a true disadvantage. After all, it looks like a perfect way to forgo fame and fortune in favor of a self-serving artistic goal. I don’t want to talk about artistic integrity or some such high-flying claim. And I don’t really believe in reincarnation, a soul, telling the future from tea-leaves or something along those lines. But I can see something decidedly ‘supernatural’, out-of-this-world in the recognition that now I am the guitar player I went out to see when I was in my teens. Because back then I was the teen who went out to see a guitar player in concerts. This teen would imagine to be that guitar player. This teen probably didn’t even listen to what the actual guitar player on that gig played but rather what he (the teen) would play were he in his (the guitar player’s) place. And then, over the years, this teen slowly, and unnoticed really, evolved into that guitar player and today looks into the audience and finds that one person who he used to be.

To become utterly philosophical you could say that this would have created two poles. You don’t get much of an interchange with one pole. It’s silly, really, but I am still striving to become what that teen saw in that guitar player 35 years ago. Or simply said, I now realize that I am the carrot that was once dangling in front the teenager I used to be.