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Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
#1
Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Hello friends,

I am a firm atheist, rationalist, materialist, skeptic, etc. As often seems to happen with such people, I'm not the warmest person and haven't paid much attention to the nuts and bolts of human interaction. I've recently identified this as a major problem in my life and have been taking steps to fix it.

To that end I picked up some literature, including "The Charisma Myth" by Olivia Fox Cabane. The book claims that while there are some physical behaviors you can change to make yourself more charismatic, a lot of it is down to internal psychology. Humans can detect inauthenticity very well, so genuineness can't be faked. You have to be mentally present and ready to convey your genuine self.

One component of this charismatic mindset is a psychology where uncertainty doesn't linger and create lasting discomfort, hesitation, and distraction. I find myself struggling with uncertainty quite often, rehearsing events dozens of times, well past the point of usefulness - fretting endlessly over things I can't control. Cabane's suggestion for dealing with this is:

Quote:Responsibility Transfer

Whenever you feel your brain rehashing possible outcomes to a situation, try a transfer of responsibility to alleviate the anxiety.
  1. Sit comfortably or lie down, relax, and close your eyes.
  2. Take two or three deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine drawing clean air toward the top of your head. As you exhale, let it whoosh out, washing all your worries away.
  3. Pick an entity - God, Fate, the Universe, whatever may best suit your beliefs - that you could imagine as benevolent.
  4. Imagine lifting the weight of everything you're concerned about off your shoulders and placing it on the shoulders of whichever entity you've chosen. They're in charge now.
  5. Visually lift everything off your shoulders and feel the difference as you are now no longer responsible for the outcome of any of these things. Everything is taken care of. You can sit back, relax, and enjoy whatever good you can find along the way.

The problem with this should be obvious, but I'll spell it out. I can't pick such an entity because I have a hard time believing in one. God and Fate don't exist (and please don't argue that here, pick another thread.) The universe is something I view as impersonal and capricious. I would like to change my perception of it to "impersonal and abundant with goodness" for other psychological reasons, but it's still not an entity that can take responsibility. Doing that exercise with these beliefs would be logically equivalent to saying "just stop worrying about it", which is less than helpful.

I think the ability to think of the universe as a benevolent entity probably isn't too far from my grasp, if I wanted it. I think humans evolved a tendency to think that way instinctively, precisely because it makes us act better socially. Even Daniel Dennett finds a similar belief, speaking of "thanking goodness", as if "goodness" were an entity or force pervading reality.

Among atheists, a common conception of such psychological tools is that they are "crutches for the weak". Well, crutches they may be, but I think I can do without that value judgment of "weakness". A tool is a tool, and if it's useful or helpful, you should use it. What I want to know is (and thanks again, Dennett): is this a "boom crutch"? Will it explode in my armpit and leave me worse off than when I started?

So here are my questions. Can you, my fellow atheists, see potential pitfalls in conceiving of the universe in this way, for this purpose, inside an otherwise fully materialist context? Do you think the costs outweigh the benefits?

Are there other tools for dealing with uncertainty in a more rational manner? This seems to be one of those things that believers get for free, but we have to come up with a better alternative from the ground up.
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#2
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Hello, welcome Smile

Sorry if I've missed the answer to these questions, but:

1) What is it you're uncertain about?

2) Why do you want to view the universe as "abundant with goodness"? It's mostly abundant with nothing of any consequence as far as I can see. Maybe seeing Earth that way would make more sense? Our planet is abundant with what I would call goodness, as well as abundant with things I'd describe less favourably.
Feel free to send me a private message.
Please visit my website here! It's got lots of information about atheism/theism and support for new atheists.

Index of useful threads and discussions
Index of my best videos
Quickstart guide to the forum
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#3
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Hi, thanks!

1) "Uncertainty" in this context refers to uncertainty about the outcome of an event, usually with a social component. These events may take some planning, but should be executed fully in the moment once the planning is done. Examples would include business proposals, meetings, dates, negotiations, hanging out with new people, etc. Harboring this uncertainty can distract you and cause you to become flustered when things get off script.

2) I'd like to conceive of the universe as a place of abundance again because of the psychological benefits. If you conceive of good things as scarce and random, it contributes to a frightened, conservative mindset which struggles to accomplish things and can be easily derailed. An optimistic mindset is a resilient one, which encourages perseverance and shrugs off the frequent blows that people are dealt on a daily basis. There's a reason that awful book "The Secret" was so popular, and not just because people like easy answers. An optimistic attitude is a powerful tool, though you also need planning, critical thinking, and actual effort to accomplish your own goals alongside it (part of your balanced breakfast!)

As for the universe vs. earth... very few things happening off the planet will ever have any impact on me, so for the purposes of this discussion, we can go ahead and use those terms interchangeably.
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#4
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
OK, thanks Smile

I'll have a think and see if I can come up with anything useful. I totally agree that having a positive attitude can be very beneficial and healthy.

What is making you think the world is not abundant with goodness at the moment? Is it the arbitrary nature of the term "good"? Or all the horrible shit in the world? If you're trying to convince yourself the world is only good, then I'd say that's just fantasy and probably impossible to do.
Feel free to send me a private message.
Please visit my website here! It's got lots of information about atheism/theism and support for new atheists.

Index of useful threads and discussions
Index of my best videos
Quickstart guide to the forum
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#5
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
As an initial take, I don't worry much about whether there is abundance 'out there' for I am constantly surprised by the abundance I find within. Take up any creative endeavor and see if you don't feel the same way about what presents itself to the imagination when we are receptive to it. I used to draw, dance and do a little poetry. I know other people who get it from making music or even athletic challenges. Now I look to gardening and the company of dogs.

My own best guess is it is the receptive mode of creativity which yields a sense of abundance. Approach the same activities with an eye for execution and mastery and I don't think you get the same return, though you can certainly find other satisfactions that way.
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#6
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
You really want the personal post? Remember, you asked! Big Grin

My life has been going very badly. I inherited extremely toxic, pessimistic beliefs from my parents, both directly through transmission of their beliefs, and psychologically through neglect. I had been isolated and sheltered for a long time, these beliefs were never challenged, and I wound up in a depressing situation. It seemed that I would always be behind in life and never able to catch up, which prevented me from even trying anything.

This sort of psychological problem is very resistant to reason. People will say positive things, and outwardly you say you agree with them. But inwardly you think "Well that's easy for you to say. You have X, Y, and Z. So that doesn't apply to me." It's a devious trap where you build your own cage from the inside. I'm still not sure exactly how I shook it off. It seems to have been a combination of many things.

So, now I have to figure out all the shit I've been missing out on, that my peers have been absorbing automatically for years. I look around at my material circumstances, what (little) I have accomplished, and who I've become, and it's a constant reminder that wow, I fucked up. I get daily pings in all spheres of life reminding me how far behind I am. And of course, a lack of self confidence caused by years of these thoughts magnifies them every time.

So that's why I have a hard time thinking the world is an abundant place. Pain in the ass, but you gotta start somewhere!
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#7
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Thank you for sharing. I'm very sorry to hear you have been treated that way. I had an unhappy childhood too for different reasons.

My first reaction is to challenge the idea that "you fucked up". In my eyes, you certainly did not. Your parents are responsible for adequately preparing you for the world, and when that care is replaced with neglect it's going to make things really hard for you. We naturally trust our parents, so if they taught you that's how the world is, that's how you're going to see it. I too developed totally untrue beliefs based on psychological abuse which I'm still fighting even today.

It's not your fault, it's their fault. You've done the best you can, and the fact that you've broken free at all and have come out seeking help is amazing and you should be proud of yourself. Totally shutting down and isolating yourself would have been the much easier option.

Life isn't at all fair, and for us as individuals things often seem shit in all different kinds of ways. When I look for goodness in the world, I look to the people who are out there making a real difference. The people who volunteer their time to help people and animals, with nothing in it for them except the satisfaction of helping. The people who endlessly lobby for positive changes in the law to reduce harm and discrimination. I even look to the person on the street who gave me directions when I asked even thought there was nothing in it for him. For me it's about accepting that the world contains tons of horrible things, and people of varying degrees of good and badness, but focusing more on the good people, and on the good aspects of even the less good people. Focus on the things you can change for the better, and accept there are some things that are beyond your control.

Maybe instead of worrying about how much you've missed, you could consider it an exciting prospect that you've so much to experience that everyone else has already "been there, done that". Life isn't a competition, it's about doing your best, looking after each other and trying to enjoy it where possible.

I hope that wasn't too glib, I apologise if it was. Please continue to share your thoughts, so we can get to know you and try and help you. Was any of that useful? I understand changes in attitude take a long time and no one expects them to happen immediately.
Feel free to send me a private message.
Please visit my website here! It's got lots of information about atheism/theism and support for new atheists.

Index of useful threads and discussions
Index of my best videos
Quickstart guide to the forum
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#8
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Makes you wonder even if you achieved/accumulated more whether your outlook would be affected at all. In all honesty, I'd recommend accepting any and all limitations resulting from your wounding. Expect less but be open to savoring each experience for what little it has to offer. You may be pleasantly surprised.
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#9
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
hiccup
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#10
RE: Responsibility transfer for atheists - dealing with uncertainty
Quote: 2) Why do you want to view the universe as "abundant with goodness"?

I think that is the first problem.  Most of the universe would kill you in a nanosecond and never give a thought about it.  The universe is neither good nor bad, it just is.
Stop trying to anthropomorphize it and you'll do better.
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