Twenty Six

We had a rocky start. You called it off when we’ve barely even begun. I was too stunned to do anything at first, but decided to call you later and ask you to reconsider, which you thankfully did. My folks were doubtful about you and your background. You didn’t want your dad to know about us. Six months later, I would be in the hospital after being stabbed coming from your place. I thought it would be over, but we just held on.

One year passed, then two, then three. We had many good moments — sharing a pizza, seeing a movie, chatting for hours in your house, or in your car in our school parking lot on Sunday afternoons, me getting to know your friends and you getting to know mine, and your dad finally knowing that I was not just another male friend. We had some bad moments too — the silent treatment, the occasional spat and misunderstanding that goes with any relationship.

And then it was graduation time for me, and I left you in Manila to become a teacher back here in Davao. We spent four years in a long distance relationship without cellphones or Facebook. I kept a photo of you on my desk in the faculty room so that you were always smiling at me as I worked. We met only once or twice a year except for that time when you surprised me with an unannounced visit, or when I did the same to you.

Then we tied the knot and settled in Davao (or so we thought). We tried our hand at network marketing which I (the one who hated selling) ironically dragged you into, even though you swore not to touch it after your friend invited you to the same. We relocated to Manila just a few months after “settling” in Davao when our business took off there, and we would stay there for the next 10 years doing this and that, trying to forge our own path. I went back to teaching while you, ever the entrepreneur, was always trying out this or that business idea — ice candies, siomai, theater-show buying, developing and selling a discount card, bus advertising, website development, and even organizing a wedding fair. I also tried my hand at a little quail-egg farming. We made money, we borrowed money, and we also lost money.

Amidst all these, our babies were born — our little bundles of joy, who are not quite bundles right now. Raising them was an experience of going to heaven and descending to hell in the space of a few moments. I cannot forget the screams they made when putting them to sleep, or the struggle of waking up in the middle of the night to change their diapers. It was especially hard when they got feverish and you had to constantly cool them down with sponge baths. The struggle we had loading the stroller, the car seat and all the baby stuff in the car or in the plane whenever we traveled to visit Davao.

But I also cannot forget their first time talking and walking, or how Faith hugged and thanked me after bringing her to see the quails and spending time with her. I remember coming home late and seeing Aidan, our little stressbuster,  in the crib and all worries would just melt away. I remember Drei with her toy guitar and shades singing “I’m a rock star.” Then all three would gang up on us on the bed and jump around and there would be pandemonium, albeit a happy one.

You journeyed with me as I searched for truth, as my concept of church, God and spirituality constantly evolved until I eventually let go of all of them. But you did not let go of me.

When I finally decided to move our family back to Davao, you respected that decision though you had tremendous fears, and they came true but you endured and even thrived. I can only marvel at your strength, I who thought of giving up once before when everything seemed so bleak and hopeless.

Twenty-six years seems like a long time, but they have gone by like episodes of Game of Thrones. We are both a bit fatter than we were before. Your hair has started turning grey while my head has long been deforested. The kids have grown but they still like to gang up on our bed. I am still in love with your voice, except when it is nagging me to go to sleep when I am still playing Watchdogs.

Happy 26th!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Avatars and Data

Last January 25, I was at the Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference Philippines at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel and I spent the whole day listening to various speakers talk about blockchain solutions as well as their own projects.

A couple of projects were particularly interesting to me. One was Ubiatar (ubiatar.com) which was basically a video-streaming application that allowed people to either be usars or avatars. A usar is someone who hires an avatar to be his eyes and hands in a remote location. For example, a usar in Davao can hire an avatar in Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower and look around, providing a virtual tour for someone who might not be able to afford, or who might not be physically able (i.e. someone who is paralyzed from the neck down) to make the actual trip.

Usars give instructions to the avatar by typing commands in a chat box or by simply using standard onscreen icons to command the avatar to go forward, back, left or right, and even to interact with objects. The icons provide a great way to communicate especially if both do not speak the same language.

Usars can find avatars in different locations in the world via UbiatarPlay (ubiatarplay.io) and initiate contracts which avatars can either accept or refuse. Usars and avatars can also rate each other, much like online services like Uber or AirBNB where vendor and vendee rate each other. UbiatarPlay will also act as mediator in case of disputes, e.g. if the usar commands the avatar to do something dangerous, immoral or illegal, which the avatar, of course, has every right to refuse doing.

What attracted me to this project was that a lot of the technology has already been built and can be tested. I visited the Ubiatar booth where Francesco Raco, the company CFO, demonstrated the platform. First, we “hired” an avatar in Italy and I use the word “hired” loosely since all avatars at this point are simply on a volunteer basis and you can only use them to look around wherever they are. Anyway, our avatar showed us the window view from what seemed to be his or her apartment and we could tell the avatar to move right or left and even take a still photo of the view.

Next, I downloaded the Ubiatar app on my phone and became an avatar while Francesco issued commands for me to go around the conference hall. The video streaming quality was surprisingly good and impressive.

Other possible applications for this included business deals where a property buyer might hire an avatar in a remote location to scout a place first before actually traveling there, saving time and money. One can also use the platform to create a business like an online game where the players control real people to interact with a simulated environment (e.g. crime scene) where they have to solve the case by looking at various clues around the place.

The other project that caught my attention was Datum.org, which was presented by its CEO and co-founder, Roger Haenni. This project seeks to provide a marketplace for data, empowering individuals by giving us control over the various types of data collected from us by our smart devices, social networks, phones, websites, and so on, and we can choose with whom to share or even sell this data.

The user submits his/her data by connecting to the platform and paying a small fee (using DAT tokens) to store the data. This information is then encrypted and anonymized and sent to the Datum blockchain. Buyers can then look for the type of data they want and pay for that data which is then paid back to the users.

What interests me with this is the ability to monetize our own data rather than just having other entities use it for their own purposes without giving us anything in return.

All in all, attending the conference and getting to meet other experts and enthusiasts was an enriching experience. I had minor blooper while looking around at the other attendees nametags. I noticed that a lot of people had BBC Philippines printed on the bottom part of the tag, and I thought, “Wow, BBC (the media company) sure sent a lot of people to cover this event.” When I looked at my own tag later in the day, I was surprised to find out that I also had BBC Philippines printed on it. That’s when I realized that BBC was not referring to the media company but to Blockchain and Bitcoin Conference Philippines.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

The Illusion of Permanence

The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless. — Alan Watts

Despite the many cliches on life being all about change and how the only constant is change, people (including myself) still find themselves very much attached to the idea of permanence. In fact, a huge chunk of our time and effort is devoted to securing a stable job or income, being able to build a home with solid foundations, and securing wealth that will last for generations.

For others, it is not so much about wealth but about preserving one’s honor and reputation, making sure not to tarnish the family name. Or it might be about having a set of friends or a life partner who will be with you through thick or thin.

The desire for permanence is especially evident in our ideas of the afterlife — when we look forward to an eternity of pleasure and bliss in whatever form that may take — mansions, virgins, being reunited with loved ones, being in the presence of the creator, or being one with the universe and everything.

So for many of us, happiness became attached to attaining some measure of stability in life, which has meant to most people, the endless acquisition of wealth, power and stature in order to better deal with life’s challenges. We tend to think, “If only I had this or that, or him or her, I would be happy,” only to find out that once we have attained what we once thought our greatest desire, we become happy only for a short while and then we are once more miserable and unsatisfied.

The key to a happy life is to cultivate detachment, but not indifference. When we are disappointed, we tend to say “I AM disappointed,” and when we are sad we say, “I AM sad.” But are you really your disappointment or your sadness? The reverse is also true, when you say, “I AM happy” or “I AM excited,” you are not your happiness or excitement either.

Recognize the presence of these feelings but be aware that they are not you, nor should they define you.

The student once complained to the master, “You keep questioning and knocking down beliefs that I have held dear since I was a child.”

“And what is the problem with that?” said the master.

“I feel like you are not leaving me with any solid ground to stand firm on,” said the student.

“What is the solid ground of an eagle swooping down the cliffs? Or of a dolphin slicing through the ocean?” replied the master. “When will you realize that life is not about finding solid ground but learning to navigate through the winds and tides of change? Imagine entering a tower and climbing up a spiral staircase. You do not know what is on top and you can only see a few steps ahead. At each step you take, the step behind you falls away into the darkness. That is what life is all about.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Assumptions and Presumptions

Photo Credit: joshtasman Flickr via Compfight cc

As promised, this is my reaction to Gelo Strikes Back, published last week. If you’re only just getting on board now, I suggest you read the 2 previous articles before that to get a complete picture: Good News and An Eternity of Torment.

I do agree with Gelo’s first statement that his view is “difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking.” That is, to really understand where he is coming from, one needs to delve into the reasoning and philosophical arguments that lead him to make such conclusions or statements.

This is why a lot of theist vs.atheist debates usually end up with bashing and name-calling, probably because it is so much easier to do than to really listen and understand where the other person is coming from. But Gelo is one of those people with whom I’ve gotten past this stage and we can dive into each other’s arguments without the usual frivolous animosity found in these sorts of discussions.

So my main contention is that he makes so many statements about the soul — what it is, how it behaves and acts, and so on — but how do we really know that any of that is true or that the soul actually exists? Yes, Thomas Aquinas has written about this which is really based on Aristotelian philosophy but it would be too long to recreate the arguments here. But let it suffice to say that there has been a certain amount of thinking behind this — and I recognize that — and it’s not as if these assumptions were just concocted out of thin air because good old Tommy A had nothing to do one afternoon and dreamed up all these things.

Yet, still, at the heart of it and no matter how logical the train of thought is, these are still assumptions, because no soul has ever come back to tell us conclusively what the afterlife is like. Although there are many individuals who have testified on “coming back” after having a near-death experience (NDE), their accounts of the afterlife don’t really match each other’s accounts and seem more a product of their mind and existing beliefs about it than any real experience. That is, a Christian with NDE would most likely see Jesus (a Catholic might see “Mama Mary”) and someone exposed to Buddhist teachings, would most likely have feelings of being “one with the universe.” I’m not saying they’re lying but that their mind may have created situations that seemed so real that even they believe it actually happened.

The great physicist Richard Feynman said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

Reality can sometimes be stranger than fiction and may not necessarily follow logic as we know it. For example, it was logical for scientists to assume that the atomic model follows the same gravitational model they observed in space. They assumed that there was a huge nucleus in the middle with the smaller electrons going around it in orbits much like the planets go around the sun. But actual experiments showed this was just not true and so the whole new field of quantum mechanics was developed and contained many new theories that seemingly defied the logic of that day. One of these was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which even Einstein could not accept.

Now it doesn’t bother me so much when people make their own assumptions about the afterlife and their picture of reality. What galls me is when they tout their own assumptions as fact and don’t even bother to recognize or acknowledge that they may be dead wrong about it all.

But in the end, even Gelo agrees that he does not know with certainty, only that the arguments from Thomism make certain conclusions that are hard for him to deny.

I, on the other hand, prefer to remain skeptical and would probably wait until this life is over to find out if there is indeed something that awaits beyond. As Anthony de Mello declares: “Too many people worry about the next life when they don’t even know what to do with this one.”

So I’ll figure out this life first.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Gelo Strikes Back

Photo Credit: giveawayboy Flickr via Compfight cc

The following is Gelo’s response to my previous article, An Eternity of Torment, which I have decided to publish in full, with only minor edits for brevity and correctness. My own reaction to it will come out in the next article:

The Catholic view is kind of very difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking. But you asked for it, Andy.

Before any talk of why a ‘soul’ that’s destined for hell after the death of the body remains so destined, it’s important to know, first, what exactly a ‘soul’ is, and second, what our natural knowledge of God is in this life.

On knowledge of God: it will suffice for now to say that God is the good. The Good Samaritan knows God insofar as he knows the good, despite that he doesn’t know God in a completely theologically sound manner. Now, with that aside..

On the Soul: Aquinas argues that a soul–or that part of us which remains after death–is pure intellect and will. (This wasn’t concocted willy-nilly, btw, as it all follows from his metaphysic, which all follows from his Aristotelian philosophy.)

Now, the Will follows the Intellect insofar as the intellect chooses the good towards which the will becomes directed.

  1. The difference is that while the soul is attached, so to speak, to a corporeal body, its intellect has the ability to reason discursively–viz. it reasons from premises to conclusions, it favors one appetite over another, etc.

All that is to say the intellect can decide (or choose) between seemingly good things. But once the soul is detached from the body, there now exists nothing (be it cognitive processes or competing passions and appetites) that could lead it away from what it had already habituated itself to think is good. And, lacking the ability for sensations or imaginations–an ability it once had when attached to the body–there now exists for the soul no way of obtaining new knowledge.

On the issue of death being the point of no return for the soul:

  1. From A, therefore a soul that had been habituated, prior to the death of the body, to be directed to some good other than God will have its will directed to that other good and be locked-on to it eternally.
  2. From 1, a soul whose intellect had been so habituated will be forever separated from God.
  3. Also from 1, a person who was habituated to hate God (or, the good) in this life will very likely be bound to have his will directed away from God upon death.
  4. As an aside, it’s probably not as bad as one tends to think. Well, it is, but not from the perspective of the damned, because if the damned are damned because they will some good other than God, then that entails they probably don’t know what they’re missing. They think they’re directed towards some higher good, afterall.
  5. As another aside, one must understand that the orthodox Christian understanding is that God is the ultimate good, therefore being with God just is what heaven is about, and being away from God just is what hell is about.
  6. As another aside, this isn’t the only theological explanation of the matter. There are others, and ‘universalism’ seems to be the one that’s attractive to most. So a Christian (or anyone interested in concocting a disproof for Christianity for that matter) would do well to consider other explanations should he find this one unattractive, before throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

All is not lost for the…ehrm.. lost soul, however. What is explained above is the ‘just’ side of God. There is a merciful side as well. I believe this has to do with some form or purgation of the soul after death. As to who will be so treated mercifully, I don’t know. It’s up to Him, I guess. But, like I said, accepting Jesus’ sacrifice is what I believe will make the difference.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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