The concept of rebirth is common to many religions. From the ashes of his past, the man is given a chance to live again and redeem himself. In some ways, I feel reborn as I write these words. It has been too long since I last felt the desire to give some semblance of permanence to my thoughts. Days became weeks, and weeks became months; the fun times rolled by with barely a whisper and, with little fanfare, a full year had vanished into my past. How appropriately ironic it is that the best year of my life should go completely unrecorded here.
So yes, I am still alive and well. The last time I updated, I was a wide-eyed freshman about to embark on a quest for knowledge and liberation. Today, I am a sophomore, slightly battle-hardened and a smidgen worse for wear, back home in Singapore for the short winter break. Having spent the last summer interning in the Silicon Valley, this is the first time I’ve been home since taking off a year ago.
It is an odd feeling to be back – the feeling you get when you try to watch an old VHS tape you found in your closet and it starts to play from the middle. What were you doing when you stopped the video? Does that point of time bear any significance or is it just random chance? And just what the heck is a VHS tape? Vague recollections swirl at the back of your mind teasingly, but try as you might the answers are not forthcoming. Perhaps your unconscious is just playing a trick on you. After all, records of our past thoughts and feelings exist only in our gullible minds. If history carved in stone tablets could be altered and remade by the ambitious and the delusional, then our inner past might as well be entirely fictional. Indeed, it probably is.
If we truly have the power to (re)invent our past, then let us use that power for good. Believe that you are kind, moral, and just, so that your future conscious decisions reflect your new self. Though I am and have been an atheist all my life, I too operate on beliefs. I believe in my intuitions under the baseless assumption that my unconscious has noticed something that I have not. I believe in my feelings because questioning them leads one on an endless recursion of self-doubt and cynicism. I believe in the people I love because it feels wonderful for your feet to be grounded even if there always exists an irrefutable non-zero probability that you are stepping in quicksand.
When you say you believe, you allow the possibility of disappointment. And from disappointment or betrayal, there may come despair. Such is the way of the mind.
— Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Haruki Murakami
To believe is to make a completely rational decision to suspend rationality when it proves counterproductive. If we refused to believe that the images sent by our eyes to our brains reflect the realities of a real physical world, then we would quickly find ourselves paralyzed into inaction by the epistemological void. To believe is not to deny the possibility that we live in the Matrix, but to make the sensible bet that we do not. A smart gambler weighs the odds against the rewards and maximizes expected returns. Of course, sometimes the odds simply do not make sense, which is why I remain an atheist. Still, I acknowledge and embrace the power of believing. Sometimes, our personal experiences compel us to attempt irrational feats, and that is simply what must be done.
At this point, the few of you who stumbled upon this long lost relic of Internet past are probably bewildered by this senseless soliloquy. Rest assured, my year at Stanford has not driven me mad, nor am I under the influence of any mind-altering substance. I just figured that it’s been a long while and some rambling would do me well. I suppose this bit of drivel on belief shall suffice for now. Maybe I’ll write more if my Muse decides to show herself once more. In the meantime, please watch Contact if you haven’t already. It was the movie from my teens that reshaped my thoughts on beliefs.