"How We Believe", by Michael Shermer

I forgot to mention earlier this week that I finished this book on the plane to Seattle. Frankly, I didn't get a lot out of it. Maybe I missed something, but I really didn't find Michael's point. I guess I've heard these arguments before about mythmaking and humans as pattern-seekers, so it was somewhat repetitive. It's not a bad book, though, so I wouldn't brush it off, especially if you're trying to figure out why we believe (because the "why" and "how" always mingle :) ). The last chapter on contingency and necessity was somewhat confusing, but I love this quote near the end of the book:

Because of the trigger effect and contingent-necessities, and the fact that at any point in the system it could be early as well as late (since we do not know when our personal system will end), one never knows which actions will or will not make a difference. Only the historian looking back is privileged to so judge. It is this lack of foresight and prognostication that makes the potential for the power of contingency and individuality so puissant. Since we do not know for certain which actions will matter and which ones will not, it is as rational as not to assume the former than the latter. It may be nothing but wishful thinking to desire one's place in history to be contingently significant, but since we do not know, why not act as if it does?

I've heard from Christian circles that humanity is special and those that don't have God in their lives have no morals or ethics. But this isn't true. Basically, since we don't know what actions we make will have an impact on our history or evolution, why not act as though our actions have significance? It may be a cold, dark, indifferent universe, but at the end of the day, we don't know what kind of "impact" our actions have. Therefore, it's best to assume that our actions have impact and we should take that into account. That really resonates with me. We're humans. We are all that have. We are the only sentient creatures in the universe (that we know of). Do we want our legacy to be intolerance to other religions? To gays and lesbians? To blowing up buildings in the name of God? Or do we want something better?

* Posted at 03.16.2006 03:43:05 PM CST | Link *

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