The Life of a Zombie
Most of us live our lives like zombies, bombarded by the beliefs of our peers, of religion, of government, of culture, and, more recently, by advertising and information on the internet. We become zombies, or if you prefer, automatons, that is not thinking, not critiquing what we read and hear.
In modern times where the internet and everything found there dominates our lives, how do we know what is true and what is false. I was fortunate in that at an early age, when I was in high school in the late ’50s, by pure chance, I came across a radio station (KPFA in Berkeley, California) that broadcast the news provided by Reuters news service in England. I realized that what I heard on that radio station was very different from what was said on radio or television and printed in the newspapers. I was confused, as I believed what I had heard and read previously. How could that be? After considering this, for me, inexplicable experience, I concluded that I could not believe either view a priori, that I needed to find my viewpoint, which then became my truth, rejecting the truth of others. This independence was, of course, quite a challenge to maintain at my young age. However, as the years went by, I found it easier to achieve.
Now you may ask, how is it possible to avoid being a zombie? I can only describe my path, one that worked for me but may not be appropriate for everyone. For me, the key lay in rejecting what is often called “conventional wisdom,” not everything at the same time, but slowly, as I rejected one, I moved on to the next. I explain this process more thoroughly in my review of Essentialism.
Let’s take a look at a (relatively) simple example: time as a constant progression. Conventional wisdom regarding time is that time is a steady progression of events. This idea corresponds to Newton’s posit of absolute time, which he described some 250 years ago. Next came Einstein’s idea, about one hundred years ago, of relative time in which the progression of events can be faster or slower depending upon how quickly an object moves relative to a specific point at which the time is measured. More recently, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli posits that reality is a complex network of events onto which we project sequences of past, present, and future. In other words, our perception of time depends on our inability to see the world in sufficient detail. We can simulate this idea. Recall your first kiss or the birth of your first child. Focus on this event, with all its attending environment, thoughts, and emotions, while rejecting all of the same in your current circumstance. In other words, meditate on the event. So, the question is: do you exist “now” or in that (past) event? I do not suggest that you should reject your everyday experience. However, it is possible to experience what we would generally refer to as “memory” to the same degree as an everyday experience. I do not suggest that we should always reject the view that time is a unidirectional progression of events. However, there is an alternative possibility that we can choose to employ in certain circumstances.
Similarly, we can simplify our lives by rejecting negative emotions such as hatred and anger. I do not mean controlling such emotions. Instead, I mean not experiencing them. That is, to attain a state where they no longer exist. In my experience, this is possible by rejecting all of the influences on our lives that lead to wants – that is, that which is not essential in our lives. Imagine how pleasant life would be if we had no wants and could focus on those things essential to us individually. Most certainly, this is not an easy task but is achievable.
If you have ever changed your belief, your view, of a particular aspect of life, recall how difficult that was, how long it took you to do that, of the attacks and ridicule you had to endure from those with whom you had previously agreed but now rejected. And how often were you able to make such changes. Once, twice… ever? What did it cost you? Loss of friends, loss of your footing in life?
10 March 2020
Revised: 11 July 2020