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Do Atheists have any beliefs?
August 19, 2008
3:24 am
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A Question put to an expert:

" ...What is a general atheist view on the meaning of life? ... ...

According to atheist beliefs, what will happen after death? Will we carry on or is it the end of our existence?

Why were we put on Earth at all in the first place? Was it chance, did it just happen or did a higher power contribute to such a miracle of life?..."

The Expert's Response:

"Since atheism is not a philosophy at all, there is no one single answer to all these questions you are asking. Atheism is simply and only the belief that there is no evidence for the existence of a god or gods, which makes us not believe in one (or many). Note: for most atheists, this is not the belief that there IS NO GOD. Most atheists admit there is no way to prove this positive assertion that there is no god. But since the possibility that a god or gods exist is vanishingly small (mathematically speaking), atheists feel comfortable not believing in them, just like most people are comfortable not believing in goblins and dragons and Thor and Egyptian gods.

Atheism does not extend any further from that. It is simply a disbelief in all claims of god or gods.

There are actually some religions that are atheistic in nature - Buddhism, Scientology and some forms of Wicca are among them. Some of these religions are simply about philosophy or other dogma without any higher supernatural being, but they don't believe in the existence of a God, which makes them atheistic. So atheists can believe in Karma, reincarnation, space aliens like Xenu, witches, "the power of the moon" etc - and I don't think you meant to talk about THESE atheists in your questions.

The questions you ask are directed (I think) to the subset of atheists who are also rationalists. Rationalism is a view of life that takes only reason and the real, proveable world into account. Rationalism rejects anything that cannot be proven via the scientific method. It has no "beliefs" as such, because belief implies "faith". rationalism is against faith. There are many types of rationalism with widely disparate philosophies, including Secular Humanism and Objectivism, to name just two. Their philosophies can vary wildly, too. But for the three questions you ask, their views are similar.

So to answer your questions from a rationalist point of view:

1. The "meaning" of life is an unanswerable question unless there is some entity that can generate this meaning. For theists, this means God had a purpose with which He created the earth and all the life and nonlife on it, and that godly purpose is the meaning of life. Rationalists consider "meaning" to be what individual being chooses to give to his/her life. We don't believe there is a higher power directing our actions, or watching us like Big Brother. We are responsible for ourselves, and we are responsible to the society and world we live in. The meaning of our lives is individual to us.

2. Unless it can be proven otherwise, rationalists are comfortable believing that death is the end of our existence. To speak of an afterlife has no meaning to them, because nobody can possibly know anything about that, like to speak of where we were "before we were born". This is not a sad or discouraging idea. To rationalists, it simply means that we just have this one life to live in the best manner possible, that life is much more precious than most theists think, because there are no second chances like reincarnation or heaven. To support this view, rationalists point to many things as evidence: there have been hundreds of studies proving memories, personalities and physical abilities like the power of speech and thought cannot exist independently of our physical brain (and sometimes body, like for speech), which is decayed after death. There is no evidence at all to support any "supernatural" concepts like souls or ghosts. So to think that "something" that preserves our memories and personalities, that is able to move 'up" to heaven by itself, and speak or communicate with living loved ones in some way - these are as believable as fairy tales.

3. To ask "why" we were "put" on earth is to assume that there was someone or something that had a purpose, and DID the "putting". It's a question that assumes its own answer, a leading question that smuggles theistic beliefs into it. Rationalists believe there was no why and no putting (or at least a vanishingly small chance that there was a why or a putting). They may agree with the theory of abiogenesis (life was a result of primordial "soup" of inorgnic matter in early earth which gave rise to the first forms of life) or they may think that the genesis of life on earth is an unsolved mystery, just like the birth of the universe. But no matter how life got started, rationalists subscribe to the theory of evolution to explain the growth and variation of all the myriad forms of life on earth today."

Is our Guest_guest a Rationalist?

Are the rationalists really rational in assuming that all beyond the boundaries of proof within the domain of science is non-existent?

August 19, 2008
4:00 am
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Don't atheistic scientists have faith? Don't they have faith in the veracity of the philosophy of science?

Doesn't the Philosophy of Science rely on faith in the veracity and reliability of the scientific methodologies?

"It is as much of a mistake to think that these "refuted" hypotheses are "false" as it is to think that the "accepted" theory is "true". Popper himself was aware of this.

but those who uphold it dogmatically [a system] . . . are adopting the very reverse of that critical attitude which in my view is the proper one for the scientist. In point of fact, no conclusive disproof of a theory can ever be produced; [italics mine] . . . If you insist on strict proof (or strict disproof) in the empirical sciences, you will never benefit from experience, and never learn from it how wrong you are.(9)"

Reference.

August 19, 2008
5:49 am
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WizardofAus
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Faith without doubt is actually a meaningless concept. If I am certain of something I do not need faith.

We demonstrate faith when we predict an as yet unknown outcome or possibility in favour of some other possible alternatives. When I bet on a given horse I am demonstrating a faith in it winning.

The problem with the spiritual world is that the result of the race is not likely to be known in the near future. Some have called this unknowable realm metaphysical, meaning above or outside of the material universe.

In the metaphysical world all is mysterious and as yet unknownable whilst we remain in the material or physical world.

Jung and others believe that there may be a connection between these two worlds via our imagination via events such as dreaming. And this seems to me to be the usefulness of spiritual speculation.

For instance if I believe in my imagination that a Divine Entity may be helping me to overcome an addiction, this may lead to healthy change, even though any strict cause and effect relationships will remain impossible to prove. The fact that I have faith in the imagined process appears to make a difference.

However, who can argue with the atheist who says, there is no rescuing God coming to save me, so I had better pay close attention and use every moment of my life in a disciplined manner. Why should that recipe be any less effective in the pursuit of a meaningful life?

Personally, I find all these speculations about the physical and historical aspects of the Bible to be a bit of a red herring. Nobody knows and who cares anyway.

What matters most for me is the impact of the Bible's myths and legends upon my creative imagination.

As one sage said of the Bible, "If you remove the metaphors and the symbolism, all you are left with are the covers."

August 19, 2008
6:05 am
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WizardofAus

You wrote:

If I am certain of something I do not need faith."

When you turn on the light switch in your home are you certain beyond any doubt that the light will come on?

If not then switching the light switch on is an act of faith on your behalf.

Similarly an atheist switching on an electric light commits an act of faith if he/she is not certain beyond any doubt that the light will come on.

Do you think that a rationalist like Guest_guest is absolutely certain of the outcomes of all the operations that he performs in life to achieve his desired ends?

If not then he is performing some acts with a level of faith in his beliefs.

Is Guest_guest really a rationalist at all?

Can he prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the light switch will always switch the light on? I've known switches to fail!

Are 'pseudo-rationalists' like Guest_guest atheistic hypocrites in disguise? What do you think?

August 19, 2008
6:17 am
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guest_guest

On the 15-Aug-08 you wrote:

"There's nothing to be made FUN of in athiesm, because we believe in nothing. How will you make fun of it then?"

Believe in nothing??? Read the first post and learn a little about atheists and their beliefs.

My being an atheist, and knowing that you claim to be one, I find your public statement an embassasment to atheism.

August 19, 2008
11:04 am
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Mmmmm, I dont know what this is all about.

I'm assuming its simply your claim that: belief in science is no different than belief in a religion.

Is that your main point, Tez?

>> My being an atheist, and knowing that you claim to be one, I find your public statement an embassasment to atheism.

Dito, back to you, although I dont feel embrassed bt I do feel sad for you.

Athiests can be scientologists, enough said.

When I said athiest dont have any beliefs to be made fun of, I was obviously refering to that branch of rational athiests. Scientologists obviously have a lot to be made fun of.

A scientolist is an athiest too. Good point.

I could be an athiest while believing that a flying golden-egg laying chicken lives on Mars. I could, yea.

So yea, clarify your main point before I deal with it and yea, you've raised this before: "belief in science is no different than belief in a religion." - correct?

August 19, 2008
11:15 am
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Here's a reply from someone on the web, about the claim that "belief in science is no different than belief in religion"

The fault line in his piece is his insistence that a belief in science is akin to a belief in religion. It is no such thing. Science is founded upon an uncertainty that allows - indeed encourages - its conclusions to be questioned and confirmed or overturned. That’s because science is about methodology, not about belief. Science pays homage to one master: evidence. But evidence is not a value in the way liberty or a belief in God’s word are values. For evidence is a promiscuous bedfellow, and if it points to a creator, or to the bodily resurrection of Christ, then it will encompass these phenomena without prejudice, though with an eye on future refutation.

The anti-God squad, in other words, lay themselves open to challenge and persuasion. They doubt and they question. They admit error, and their world view is necessarily fluid. It is the opposite of ideology and of the religiously doctrinaire. To label a commitment to such an approach zealous or evangelical (with the religious connotations such labeling entails) is obtuse in the extreme.

More quotes, this one is from Bertrand Russell:

There are many beliefs in science too. But belief in science is different from belief in religion. Scientific beliefs are not held dogmatically. ... [read more]

Russell on Religion By Bertrand Russell, Louis I. Greenspan, Stefan Andersson

August 19, 2008
12:26 pm
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Okay Tez.

So maybe you accept (or appreciate) the metaphysics of Buddhism (karma, etc) without the practice?

I think this is like coming up with a plan on how to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle without manipulating the pieces. For me, it wouldn't be satisfying. But it might be for some people who enjoy the very abstract and cerebral. Okay. But, you can't really know what the puzzle looks like when you do it this way (now don't pick on me, assuming there is no picture on the box, lol). You can painstakingly label all the pieces 1 through 1,000 and then say, the pieces go together in numerical order, and then you can claim that you've solved the puzzle. In a way you have, but you're still missing something. You're missing the picture that results, which might be the whole point.

When you meditate, you still the mind, quiet the heart. You settle everything down. You breathe in and breathe out until all the circles of thought and images stop spinning. You eliminate congratulating yourself and chastising yourself for doing it right or wrong until all is quiet. Then what do you have? You have atma! Or anatma if you so choose to call it!

When you meditated did you stop being? Or did you start being? Does it make a difference? There is the picture. No explanation or theory is going to cut it. You have to go there.

Respectfully yours, soofoo

August 19, 2008
3:07 pm
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Revisiting what Tez said.

Ha thats real funny. Tez is saying that since I have faith in a light switch that it will turn on when I flick it, its no different from a Muslim having faith in Allah.

Ummmm... no comments for now. Lets ponder over that.

August 19, 2008
6:42 pm
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Guest_guest wrote:

"Tez is saying that since I have faith in a light switch that it will turn on when I flick it, its no different from a Muslim having faith in Allah."

Is there anyone else who thinks that is what I said????????????????

Are you on medication, Guest_guest?

August 19, 2008
6:54 pm
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soofoo

On the 19-Aug-08 you wrote:

"Okay Tez.

So maybe you accept (or appreciate) the metaphysics of Buddhism (karma, etc) without the practice? "

Oh I practice ...

"When you meditate, you still the mind, quiet the heart. You settle everything down. You breathe in and breathe out until all the circles of thought and images stop spinning. You eliminate congratulating yourself and chastising yourself for doing it right or wrong until all is quiet. Then what do you have? You have atma! Or anatma if you so choose to call it!"

Atma means soul while anatma means no soul, no self; that is, anatma is the negation of atma.

And then you asked:

"When you meditated did you stop being? Or did you start being?"

Being who or what? Who is doing the being?

August 19, 2008
7:01 pm
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Hi Guest.

Yes, Tez is absolutely right. We all believe in something; our reality is really just a set of beliefs. And William James, the psychologist, was very clear that what we beieve in, is very important in defining our personal future outcomes. If you did not believe that the power was connected it is likely that you would not even bother to flick the light switch. On a grander scale, those sorts of self limiting doubts can lead to what Emerson called "a life of quiet desperation."

Faith is a belief in things not yet seen. So, faith has a future focus. We all have faith in something, even if it is a belief that nothing much will change.

We have a choice as to what we will put our faith in. For instance if you are standing at the top of a cliff considering how you will get to the bottom, do you put your faith in gravity or your ability to fly by flapping your arms like a bird? In most instances, our past experience will tend to determine where we place our faith.

However, in certain contexts, such as addiction, our past experience has led us into a cul de sac. One mode of escape is to use our imagination to put our faith in a possible future which is radically different from what our past conditioning has taught us is inevitable. This spiritual transformation seems to be the key to the 12-step recovery.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not; so faith is a rather non-rational choice that is easy to mock within the scientific paradigm. However within the spiritual paradigm, sometimes when the ducks all line up, miracles do seem to happen, especially within the quiet space of my humble heart.

August 19, 2008
7:46 pm
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Tez,

Anatma does not mean no soul, no self. It means not self.

Not separate and distinct. Not a personality, an ego.

This is totally different from "non-existent".

This is about where you put your identity. It is intentional.

Unless I have it all totally wrong.

August 19, 2008
9:15 pm
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Wiz, so what do you think Burtrand Russell was talking about?

August 19, 2008
9:56 pm
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I am not sure, Guest.

I know some pretty dogmatic so-called scientists. Galton was known to cook the books to support some of his "criminal gene" theories. Then in the 60's the Kennedy and Johnson in the USA got very keen on the opposite theory that if you took kids out of their poor environment and "bussed" them over to the rich kids' school, the poor kids would be off and racing. Anyway, this scientist dude was really keen to find data to support the "headstart movement". Alas, he too was found guilty of cooking his data. So data-bending is clearly not politically based. There you go, I have just invented a theory. Maybe Guest will turn me into his religious guru. lol

I am trying to remember a classic book from my university days. It was called something like "the anatomy of a scientific paradigm shift". He used the box-on between behaviourists and the introverts as his example. For a generation after Watson, you had to be in one camp or the other. Then the next generation of more open minded younger scientist said, "hey, you old timers, we can see merit in both ideas." So they evolved the paradigm of nature and nurture in shaping our personalities.

Russel's theory is certainly orthodox. Scientists can have an opinion but they should always be open to relinquishing their belief in the light of more compelling evidence.

However, I think he is being a bit socio-politically naiive. If there is plenty of funding for climate change then I had better believe in it, if I want to get some funding. lol

Also, the paradigm shift argues that we can be rather dogmatic about what constitutes evidence. At one stage, surgeons who washed their hands were seen as having a fetish and nobody really bothered to count the number of patients who did not become infected; the whole idea was just too crazy. I think that sort of thing still goes on today.

I still think we are best to regard the spiritual dimension as being beyond the material plane (metaphysical) and respect it mainly for the impact that it can have on our imagination. If thoughts of a loving God make me feel better, where is the harm in that. But I am not going to start a war about it if you feel differently.

August 19, 2008
10:19 pm
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WizardofAus

Guest_guest seems to equate faith with religion. He seems to equate all faith with 'blind faith' and doesn't seem to know the difference between the two.

As you implied in another post, Guest_guest is challenged by his youthful lack of experience in life. I would like to see what Guest_guest would have to say in another 35 years after raising a family, going through a divorce, losing loved ones through death, going through breakups in addictive relationships, great physical and mental suffering, some formal education, etc. Once Guest_guest graduates from the 'University of Hard Knocks', he might even turn out to be a likeable fellow.

But as the old saying goes: "You can't put an old head on young shoulders."

August 19, 2008
10:38 pm
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oh but I do miss being young myself.

When I was at University, we used to have this week of pranks during which we tried to redeem ourselves by raising money for charity. But the pranks were what it was really all about.

Anyway, there were these guys digging up the road. So we called the police and said, "hey, these uni students are dressed up as labourers and they are digging up the road." "Thank you for being so community minded Sir, we will come down and arrest them immediately."

Meanwhile my mate went across the road to the workers and said, "hey you guys, listen up. There are these uni students dressed up as cops and they are going to pretend to arrest you guys." "Thanks for the tip, we will keep a pick handle handy."

Then we hid across the road and photographed the whole ugly incident and sent it into the local paper.

May God have mercy on my soul. The devil and my youth made me do it.

August 19, 2008
11:06 pm
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soofoo

On the 19-Aug-08 you wrote:

"Tez,

Anatma does not mean no soul, no self. It means not self."

I disagree.

You also wrote:

"Not separate and distinct. Not a personality, an ego."

I agree with this statement about the 'self'.

You also wrote:

"This is totally different from "non-existent"."

I agree. 'No self' does not mean non-existence of the 'processes' that we call the 'self'. I think we have a difference of opinion on the semantics - not about what are our understandings of the Buddhist doctrine of anatma.

The Buddha said this in the Diamond Sutra:

"25. Transforming That Which Cannot Be Transformed

"Subhuti, what do you say Don't you ever say that the Tathagata has this thought: 'I am saving sentient beings'. Subhuti, don't have this thought. And why is this? In truth, there are no sentient beings for the Tathagata to save. If there were sentient beings for the Tathagata to save, then the Tathagata would have lakshana of self, human being, sentient being, and soul.

"Subhuti, when the Tathagata speaks of a self, it is the same as no self, and yet all ordinary people take it as a self. Subhuti, the Tathagata says that ordinary people are not ordinary people, and that this is what is called ordinary people.""

My understanding of this is that what we call our 'self' exists - but not as a separate entity, a personality, an ego - as you said before.

It is this imagined separate self that we imagine to own the body and mind that is non-existent except as a delusion of that same mind.

When we feel insulted, it is this imagined self - the ego mind - that we believe to have been insulted.

All words fail to describe the indescribable. Indescribability is not synomynous with non-existence - Guest_guest please note.

August 19, 2008
11:13 pm
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WizardofAus

On the 19-Aug-08 you wrote:

"May God have mercy on my soul. The devil and my youth made me do it."

Oh ... you are a naughty, naughty boy. 🙂

But I have to tell you, the hook is sticking through the bait too far for this wary fish to go in for a feed.

Maybe the G_Fish might not see the hook?

August 20, 2008
12:51 am
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Expecting a light to go on when a switch is flipped is simply association. think pavlov's dogs and their conditioned response or BF skinner and his shaping exercises.

who doesn't expect the light to come on? I'll even flip the switch when the power is out and i know it..out of a conditioned habit...LOL.

I draw a distinct difference between that sort of "belief" and the belief in an afterlife. The differnce is we've witnessed the light go on a hundred thousand times over. (and when it doesn't..i don't suspect the switch failed, i check the bulb first, then i look to see if there was power elsewhere in the house/building. then I'd check the circuit..all before i swapped the switch). we haven't witnessed an afterlife (at least i haven't to my knowledge) - such a belief requires a true leap of faith. a light coming on isn't really a belief it's an expectation based on repeated previous experiences.

August 20, 2008
1:01 am
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Wiz,

Sorry, Bertrand Russell, the philosophical giant wasnt a dogmatic scientist, if you suggested that. You also didnt have to villianize scientists and bring up some loony scientist who cooked up data. These are exceptions ofcourse. I dont care for your liberal views as well, sorry. I dont have the time to argue with you on that. Sorry, I'm low on patience right now.

>> However, I think he is being a bit socio-politically naiive. If there is plenty of funding for climate change then I had better believe in it, if I want to get some funding. lol

Seriously, you're dumping mud on science because scientists arent able to decide if Global warming is happening or not? That was your reply to rebutting Bertrand Russell? Thats not good. Ok well, I'm not going to expect anything from you. You're a good friendly guy. Its fine. I can see that. I was looking for cold strong arguments though but its ok.

==============

Tez
You're saying I'm young so I must be stupid. Nice try. My sixty something father is dumber and less emotionally mature (no comments on myself) than an average 10 year old who has better self-esteem. Its a painful truth for me, but thats what it is. Need I say more?

Anyway, I'm not here to fight either. I'm getting busy a little.

Just like you dont read my posts, I'm not motivated to read yours. I might still be dropping in comments about the Lama if I feel like it.

How old were you Tez, when you hooked up with that dysfunctional woman who told you she got erotic in some way dealing with her little son? When was the last time you regretted doing something stupid and immature? Nah I wont get any answers from you, let alone honest answers, so its ok.

A few days ago you called Penn and Teller "unfunny prostitutes" and "gonorrhea ridden whores". Thats not mature thing at all to say for a sixty year old man, dont you think? You also have a serious anger management problem as you've admitted yourself. What has your old age taught you then? 60 years and you've been having anger problems throughout your life? Aw. Well, look in the mirror. Dont call young people stupid, immature and inexperienced when you're not perfect yourself.

August 20, 2008
1:52 am
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Wow, Guest.

I really did not think I could upset you so easily. And I certainly was not trying to.

All I was trying to say is that scientists, like the rest of us, sometimes do not live up to the ideals of their philosophies. They are subject to social pressures like the rest of us.

Anyway, Bertrand Russel was more of a philosopher than an empirical scientist wasn't he? I seem to remember him as trying hard to talk our esteemed political leaders out of blowing the earth to bits with a nuclear bomb; which I also thought was quite a good thing to avoid.

Also I do not think you would describe Francis Galton as a looney. I think he might have been Charles Darwin's cousin. They were both the grandsons of Josiah Wedgewood the industrialist who manufactured Wedgewood China and made a mozza in the process. Now there are some who today say that both these guys created theories which reflected the power and high status of their social position as members of the ruling class.

This is perhaps another example of scientists not being quite as objective as their ideals demand. However, even if that were true it would not diminish the significance of these two founding fathers of the scientific endeavour.

I am still gobsmacked that you should get so upset at my seeming to cast aspersions at the heroes of your philosophy when you seem to delight in attacking certain very well respected religious leaders.

The whole thing really is not that important is it? After all, we are only discussing ideas are we not? Or maybe you could reflect on your hurt feelings before you next hoe into someone else's personal beliefs.

I was certainly not intending to hurt your feelings. I really thought that you were a bit thicker in the hide than that.

Please keep being you, Guest. You really are a breath of fresh air.

August 20, 2008
3:18 am
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Hi Tez,

What exactly is your question here?

August 20, 2008
10:56 am
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Wiz, I think Tez was saying I'm "baiting" you for a trollish kind of arguing streak. He should know you're better than that.

August 20, 2008
9:05 pm
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Guest_guest, you wrote:

"Tez You're saying I'm young so I must be stupid."

No. I have never used the word "stupid" to describe you. This is more of your 'projecting' - possibly even transference thrown in as well. Read and comprehend my past posts again if you disbelieve me.

Do you deep down think that you are "stupid"?

Are you as a consequence of that fear that you might be "stupid", projecting that thought into me thinking that I also am thinking that about you? This is classic projection.

Or is it that your father abused you in the past by repeatedly calling you "stupid"? Are you then transfering that image of your abusive father and his opinions of you onto me? If so then that is classic transference.

I doubt that you can answer these questions - not because you are "stupid" but because you haven't as yet done the hard yards of self-introspection and reflection required to open up your own unconscious up to your conscious mind.

Try to read what I have said carefully and mindfully. Then reflect deeply upon the meaning. Then start your inner journey with a high degree of commitment and courage to face the 'demons' within.

In doing the above find out what they are and then go and deal with your childhood parenting issues.

This is good advice for which there is no charge. Appreciate that fact if nothing else.

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