avia: Two swans in a painted style, with a soft purple color effect that looks fantasy. (mysterious swans)
[personal profile] avia
[Public post.]

I've been reading this article which a friend showed to me, and finding it very interesting. It's a speech by Douglas Adams, and the idea is this: "there probably isn't a god or supernatural creatures, but strangely, some things work better when you act like this particular kind of god, or supernatural creature, is part of the situation".

I'm not talking about very general things like morality or being kind to each other. I'm talking about, and he's talking about, very particular situations where it works to assume there is a supernatural creature there for some reason. The examples that he gives are about the rice planting traditions of Bali, which are based on a very strict religious calendar, and Feng Shui, which is based on ideas like "how a dragon would move around this house, would they be comfortable here". And both times, scientists went in and said, we have modern knowledge now and you don't need this, you actually can be happier if you do it this modern way. And the modern way didn't work. For some reason, all the scientific calculations about how it was supposed to work, were not as good as the traditions that assumed there was a god or a dragon there.

And the point he comes to is this:

...as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there isn't an actual god there is an artificial god and we should probably bear that in mind.


I felt like something like this was happening when I read about Dr Ian Stevenson's studies on reincarnation. If you read a good summary of these studies, they are actually really powerful because they give strong evidence for a thing happening that is like reincarnation that you can't really explain in other ways, like people lying or having false memories. The evidence is just too strong that they don't. (And, often involves physical things that people can't fake, like a birthmark in the place where there was a scar on the person they claim to be in the past life, which has been checked by medical records of that past person, who did live. Sometimes there were several birthmarks and they all matched. This is as well as memories, knowing what items belong to that person, knowing that person's family and where they lived, etc.)

Well, we probably don't want to jump to the conclusion that these things are true right now. But, what we can say, is that if we assume that "something like these things" exists, then it gives us a good model for how to work with the world. It's a model that we can understand that somehow makes these things make sense. Of course, if we find out later that the model doesn't fit some other part of the situation, we can throw it away. But right now, it seems to predict things that the other models can't predict.

And that is really how science works. If the best model for the situation really is "imagine that a dragon has to live in this house", then you imagine the dragon. The dragon might not be real, but the point is that the dragon-shaped model works for some reason and you use it as long as it works. You don't just throw it out because "dragons aren't real". It doesn't matter if dragons are real, it matters that the model works. And that doesn't make "common sense", but, it is how science is really done. A lot of things that are good science don't make common sense.

That's what I feel is also true about being therian or otherkin. On the chain of events that made me, I can't say if there is literally a swan at any point. That's why I don't base my therian identity on reincarnation. I also don't base it on the idea that I "really" have a "swan-like brain".

But, what I can say is that if I act like I have a swan-like brain, if I assume that I "am" a swan in some way that has a human body that was raised human, even though this doesn't seem to make any sense, it works. That seems to be the model I need.

And that's the important thing. That's the only thing. I don't want to throw away a model that works. And that's why I'm a therian.

Date: 2013-05-13 02:06 pm (UTC)
elinox: (Wolf Eye)
From: [personal profile] elinox
In the end, it doesn't really matter if we're 'kin or not; what matters is that what we're experiencing is still real to us.

Date: 2013-05-13 08:18 pm (UTC)
yourdeer: (winter run)
From: [personal profile] yourdeer
I really want to comment on this at length, but I keep not having time! Leaving this comment for now to indicate that I think this is absolutely fascinating and I'd love to discuss when I'm able to. :3
Also, a big hoorah for Douglas Adams. I'm looking forward to finishing that article and getting back to this!

Date: 2013-05-20 03:52 pm (UTC)
yourdeer: (midsummer)
From: [personal profile] yourdeer
All right! I finally got to finish reading the Douglas Adams speech and found so much in it that is worth thinking about, both relating to your point and otherwise. So first off, thank you for linking to that - I found it very much worth my while.

This is going to be awfully long - the article and your points gave me a lot to think about. I hope it's not too late to discuss it more in-depth.

I'm going to put a few things on the table for context:
1: I am not spiritual because I can't find anything around me that says, "Yes, there is something definitely out there that is divine," or "yes, this is definitely what a soul is." I am fascinated by ritual and myths, but at the end of the day I have no understanding of what "makes them work" other than "there's something that we can't explain," or "our brains are very elaborate and something very complicated is happening in them that creates conceptions of the divine/afterlife/souls, etc."
2: Douglas Adam's explanation of how we come to believe gods exist is something I agree with. We think, because we are makers and controllers of things, that something must be making or controlling us, and since we're sentient, many people assume that the thing(s) is sentient, besides being like us in any number of ways. I don't actually think there's "something out there" - I just think we think there's something out there, that we imagined and invented, perhaps because of some need. Maybe we need divinity and religion and ritual in order not to lose our minds and kill each other and so forth, and it's a self-regulating device. I don't know. But those are the lines along which my thoughts run on the topic.
3: Despite being agnostic-leaning-atheist, I'm open to the idea that there are things influencing our perception that we are not even aware of. In fact, I'd expect that, whether those things are internal or not. I also long for ritual in many ways, and simply have not figured out some kind of personal practice that does not feel awkward or fictional. However, I understand that the process of ritual is often very soothing and helps solve internal problems in various ways, and so when I want to solve internal problems, I wish I had rituals that functioned in ways I can get behind. Essentially, I long for a personal equivalent to the dragon in the room.
(Just wanted to lay that as a base for the following discussion.)

Part of the conundrum of being a non-spiritual therian is that I cannot make myself believe in a concrete cause - a past life, a misplaced soul, a physically deerlike brain. There is nothing that tells me, "Yes, you have a reason to believe that those are true for you." But, I still feel deerlike. When I feel certain feelings I feel them through/as deer; I feel other feelings through/as horse, and no amount of, "How is that even possible," has turned off that filter. (There have been times where that filter was obscured, but I would attribute that to other identity crises taking the forefront in those times.) Therefore, I must act as if, in some way, I am deer/horse/etc., because the feelings exist even without an explanation. I can guess at explanations that fit my worldview (subconscious psychological impulses or tendencies, for example), but beyond that what can I do other than act as if the animal is there?

So, we get to the dragon in the room. People who believe in souls/reincarnation have a dragon that, from what I can tell, is quite easy and obvious for them to see. But when we're not spiritual, we still try to understand ourselves and our impulses - we just don't have the spiritual tools. Our brains say, "This doesn't quite feel like a human thing." Yet we understand we're physically human, and we don't necessarily attribute it to being a nonhuman soul/entity in a human body. The struggle to say, "Here's is why I think/feel I am an animal," is the struggle to see the dragon. For myself, I'd say that the eagerness for sociological/pyschological studies regarding therians is the same as the eagerness of the architect or engineer to figure out why the room is comfortable. It would be great if we could tell in a way that actually explained things in a way we can understand. But until then, we have to look at the dragon to understand why we feel we are animals, even if we have to squint to see it.
Maybe there will one day be a scientific explanation that will rule out any possibility of having an animal soul or animal-like brain. Obviously we are not close to that yet.

I think Adams' pointing out that money is "made up," yet crucial to how we function, is of a lot of importance here. Even if there is nothing in our brains that is actually "wired differently," or if somehow the idea of souls was to be disproved, it doesn't change that much - we still can't just stop identifying as we do because there's no physical backing, the same way most human societies can't stop using money even though it is pure invention. They're things that have become integral to the creatures that invented them. This is also where I (somewhat quietly) believe that one can potentially "become" a therian, because the identities we invent for ourselves often become very real. So if one somehow ends up on the path of, "I am an animal," without behavioral indications dating back to childhood, it can become just as inseparable a part of them as money is inseparable from human societies.

I am curious about the following paragraph and its potential application to the community:

...it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!'

But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody's (I'm going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say 'No, we don't attack that; that's an irrational belief but no, we respect it'.


I think some of the disagreement between spiritual and psychological, and each feeling uncomfortable about the other, may have something to do with this. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that (some? many?) spiritual folks hold that the non-attackability of spiritual beliefs is important - that you're not allowed to question it or say bad things about it even though it is irrational. Perhaps psychological therians, on the other hand, are more likely to attack something because it is irrational, or come up with the most rational explanation they can ("Occam's Razor" is often cited here, and I think that there is a fundamental awkwardness between, "This is the least out-there explanation, so I like that one," vs. "This is the least possible explanation to dispute, so I like that one" - the ideals behind each seem so similar and yet so different) because something irrational simply does not fill that space as well for them. So spiritual therians may feel threatened by pyschological therians who refuse to hold irrational beliefs in a place of reverence or sacredness; psychological therians feel threatened by people who hold onto irrational beliefs when more rational ones are readily available.
Again, this is just musing, a guess, but I wonder if that's the root of some of the disagreements. I wouldn't be surprised if all the noise Jarandhel is making about the superiority and "objective, actual closeness" of spiritual therians to their animal identity is simply because he feels threatened that less and less people believe in spiritual causes. He is the Vatican; psychological therians are his Galileo... except we haven't quite proven anything with science yet, and it's in a more modern day, where those who think the Vatican is trying too hard to stop the flow of progress are more than just a few easily-silenced rebel "heretics."

Date: 2013-06-12 11:07 am (UTC)
jewelfox: A portrait of a female anthropomorphic fox, with a pink jewelled pendant and a cute overbite. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
Maybe there will one day be a scientific explanation that will rule out any possibility of having an animal soul or animal-like brain.


Saying this is looking at it the wrong way. The question isn't whether or not the dragon is there; it's why acting as though it is there is beneficial to people. And the goal isn't to bring the people in question to a hypothetical normative state, in which they no longer have to imagine dragons in their homes in order to feel comfortable. It's to help them feel comfortable.

The people who imagine the dragons are right to feel threatened by inquiry which seeks to rule them out, because the people who conduct inquiry with that object in mind don't value their well-being. They just want to get rid of dragons.

Conversely, the only ways I can imagine feeling threatened by other people's imaginary dragons are if the people imagining them have caused me material harm based on their beliefs, or if I don't want to face the possibility that the dragons are real on some level.

I personally experienced a crisis of belief in which I longed for my own "dragons" but didn't know how I could have them, and tried a lot of ways to rationalize their existence. I finally gave up and just decided to hold it as an axiom that they exist, and suddenly personal tests came back positive and attempts to communicate succeeded.

I think a lot could be said about this, but if we're going to be skeptical about it I suggest first questioning the reasons why we don't want to believe that reality works like this. Especially when it so clearly does.

Date: 2013-06-13 12:48 pm (UTC)
yourdeer: (winter run)
From: [personal profile] yourdeer
Saying this is looking at it the wrong way.
I think you may have misunderstood me somewhat. I don't really care if things are proven or disproven - this isn't something I want or need to happen in order to feel some level of conclusiveness. In general, I 'm the sort to like concrete, tangible things to believe in, so I'm certainly curious, but I definitely don't think that some kind of scientific thing to point at will validate, or invalidate, my or others' experiences. I hope that clarifies things.

The question isn't whether or not the dragon is there; it's why acting as though it is there is beneficial to people. And the goal isn't to bring the people in question to a hypothetical normative state, in which they no longer have to imagine dragons in their homes in order to feel comfortable. It's to help them feel comfortable.
I agree. As I mentioned, there are things that are "dragonish" to me - my therianthropy functions rather like that, even though I guess at a psychological explanation in my case. I think it's fine that people need dragons and I have no interest in eradicating them for others - sometimes beliefs help us function - most of us have them, and I would not want to take that away.

The people who imagine the dragons are right to feel threatened by inquiry which seeks to rule them out, because the people who conduct inquiry with that object in mind don't value their well-being. They just want to get rid of dragons.
I disagree with some of this. I don't think inquiry is always intended to rule out or get rid of the dragons. Sometimes, surely, but not always. Someone interested in scientific inquiry isn't always wanting to "get rid of the dragons" - they might be interested in why the dragons are there, what makes the dragons, and so forth. For some people, the scientific explanation is a dragon in itself - having seen several other people talk about the sense of spirituality and mystery they feel about scientific discoveries or processes, I would say it's rather unfair to assume that inquiry is intended to rule out all sense of mystery. The closest thing I have felt to "spiritual experience" has been about the process of evolution and the variety of living things on this planet, and I would be pretty upset if someone thought that just because I like tangible evidence, I must also seek to get rid of the wondrous or mysterious.
However, I definitely see what you mean about people who do aggressively wish to rule out the spiritual or mysterious and prove to others that their beliefs are stupid or pointless. I agree that forcing people away from beliefs (that are not harming other people - I can't stress that enough) is cruel and selfish. It's what so many missionaries have done throughout history, and clearly we have seen the damaging effects of that. So, on to your next point:

Conversely, the only ways I can imagine feeling threatened by other people's imaginary dragons are if the people imagining them have caused me material harm based on their beliefs, or if I don't want to face the possibility that the dragons are real on some level.
Well, there are certainly plenty of beliefs out there that do cause material harm to other people or creatures - that can't be ignored. If someone imagines their dragon to wish me harm because of something about me, I'm going to feel threatened. There are people out there whose imaginary dragons want to take away my bodily autonomy, or who don't want me to get married to the person I love, for an easy example.

As to people not wanting to face the possibility of the dragons being real on some level - considering that many people's beliefs are opposing or in some way mutually exclusive to one another, to acknowledge that someone else's dragons are real can sometimes mean acknowledging one's own dragons are not. If, for example, the thing that makes one person feel comfortable, or their "dragon" is that there is nothing after death, then someone else's dragon, in the form of reincarnation, an afterlife, etc., invalidates the first person's dragon. So, I can see people threatened by other people's beliefs in this way: if you believe in something, and its truth necessitates that my belief is false, then the thing that makes me comfortable is taken away from me... so to protect my belief, I will try to disprove yours. (Here, I am using "I" and "you" to mean any two people, not yourself and myself - it was the best way I could structure it to be clear. Now I will go back to "I" meaning "yourdeer.") I think it sucks that people feel the need to go after and try to disprove other people's beliefs and can't just say, "Well, these are mine, those are yours, okay," but it does seem to be a cycle that's hard to break, especially when people start using words like "right" and "wrong." Heck, even your saying "This is the wrong way to go about it," got my hackles up a bit earlier, just because I think it's right for me even if it's not for you.

I personally experienced a crisis of belief in which I longed for my own "dragons" but didn't know how I could have them, and tried a lot of ways to rationalize their existence. I finally gave up and just decided to hold it as an axiom that they exist, and suddenly personal tests came back positive and attempts to communicate succeeded.
See, I have also tried to figure out how to have my own "dragons" but I don't seem to be able to let them do what they do without some sort of rationale. What that rationale fully is, I haven't figured out yet, but I'm working on it. I think it's wonderful that people can suspend their rationale and just have their dragons, but it is not personally something that I am capable of in myself. My point is that not everyone can be at peace with themselves in just holding it as an axiom - I have tried and it just didn't work for me. I'm trying to figure out some way for them to exist, still, and I've been slowly working around the concept of "the ironic imagination" which has been helping me to A: understand my therianthropy (which I have figured out at least something of a rationale for), and B: create a system of semiotics that make me feel comfortable about things I do not feel comfortable about in a quasi-spiritual sort of way. The primary thing about that that is difficult, is reconciling that I can make something up, and it can be important and have real-life effects and function as a tool for getting through issues, even though it is consciously invented.

I think a lot could be said about this, but if we're going to be skeptical about it I suggest first questioning the reasons why we don't want to believe that reality works like this. Especially when it so clearly does.
I'm sorry, I'm a little confused as to what you're referring to here - the article, my commentary?
If you're saying that I don't want to believe that people often need irrational beliefs to be happy and at peace with the world and themselves, then you've misunderstood me, since I acknowledged a few times in my comment that sometimes we need to do those things, and that it is important and necessary. I don't mean to be defensive; I just am having a hard time figuring out what you seem to be chastising me for, here.
Edited Date: 2013-06-13 12:51 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-06-14 02:04 am (UTC)
jewelfox: A portrait of a female anthropomorphic fox, with a pink jewelled pendant and a cute overbite. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
Okay, I'm sorry for bothering you

Date: 2013-06-12 11:09 am (UTC)
jewelfox: A portrait of a female anthropomorphic fox, with a pink jewelled pendant and a cute overbite. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jewelfox
Thank you for posting this. We promise not to attack you or argue about your feelings.

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avia: (Default)
little swan child

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