Intersubjective bootstrap

If all life is a dream, is it your dream or mine?
And why should our two worlds agree?
An answer avails if we’re both The Divine,
At our source, I am you and you’re me.
Though it seems that we’re separate (I trust you’ll concur)
It’s a stretch to conceive “one great soul”–
Still, we sense there are times when our boundaries blur
Our designs coalesce as one whole.
If together we’ve dreamed up this life, with its flaws
And its numberless wonders untold,
Might we harness the power of resonant thought,
Who can say what new worlds will unfold?
We might rein back our species to mind Nature’s laws,
We might dream exploitation to cease.
Once we own all the battles that e’er man has fought,
Are we ready to co-create peace?

— Josh Mitteldorf


Challenging your own beliefs

If you read something that fits in well with your current framework of beliefs, the chances are good that you’ll learn something new, and integrate a new piece of knowledge with what you already know.  But the chance that you’ll be moved to change and grow are close to zero.

If you read something that doesn’t fit with what you presently know and believe, chances are good that you’ll disbelieve it, you’ll forget the information, or put it out of your mind.  But in the rare event that you believe it, take it in and integrate it, the potential for change and growth and personal transformation is high.

Inevitably, most of what we read is in the first category, and rightly so.  But don’t limit your reading to the familiar and the comfortable.  Once or twice a week, take in something that you deeply disagree with.  Read something that you know in advance is wrong and misguided, even morally depraved.

Let yourself take it in.  How would you answer someone who thinks this way?  What would you say to him to win him over to your own perspective?  If he attacked your beliefs at their most vulnerable point, how would you defend yourself?

If appropriate, you might take a step further:  If I had the same life experiences as this person, would my beliefs be like his?  Who do I know who has changed over the years from a perspective like this one to a perspective like mine?  Who do I know who has changed in the other direction, starting from beliefs that agree with my present views, evolving toward these alien ideas that I just read?

— Josh Mitteldorf

New Year’s Resolution

By and large, willpower doesn’t work. When you’re ready for a new habit, it will become difficult, then impossible to maintain the old one.  In fact, one good application of willpower is to force yourself to continue in an old habit that feels wrong, to allow yourself to feel deeply the motivation to change.

When people set out to lose weight by sticking to a diet, over 95% of them fail. Most actually gain weight after a short initial period of success.  Feeling like a failure is part of the pattern that keeps the weight in place, and the harder you try to force yourself, the greater the resistance.

Other attempts to impose change on yourself are almost as futile.  Perhaps you can encourage growth and transformation by focusing more awareness on your moment-to-moment experience.  But to some extent, even focused awareness is a gift.

Resolve nothing.  You are already on exactly the right path, even if you don’t know where it is taking you along the way.


Males have been in charge of the world for the last 10,000 years.  We’ve created some things that are really worthwhile: yoga, chocolate, the Apollo moon shots, streaming video.  In some  other areas, our performance has been more questionable: traffic jams, form 1040, nuclear weapons, Windows 10.  I say it’s time to give women a chance to run things.  Undoubtedly they’ll do things differently, have different triumphs, make different mistakes.  It seems only right that we give female hegemony a try—though in fairness, we should limit their tenure to 10,000 years.  

— Josh Mitteldorf

Life is older than we are

Life is much older than the Earth, older than the solar system, probably older than the Milky Way galaxy.  We are only the latest upstarts in a universe that has been sewn-through with life for more billions of years than the Earth has been in existence.

In the Amazon jungle, there remain a few dozen tribes, the “uncontacted peoples” living pre-agricultural lifestyles, knowing of technological civilization only because of planes that fly overhead, or nomads who carry rumors from far-off villages.  We Earthlings are like them, a planet that is watched but left undisturbed by the Galactic Federation.

It’s not for lack of trying that biochemists have been unable to create a plausible account of life’s origins on Earth.  The probabilities don’t add up.  Even the simplest self-reproducing systems are far more complex than anything that could have assembled itself by chance.  It’s fair to conclude that the first living cells did not originate on Earth, but arrived from elsewhere, either carried on a meteor, or in cosmic dust particles, or planted here as seeds by an advanced civilization.  Francis Crick is the most esteemed of many people who have advocated this idea.

Remarkably, life on Earth is as old as the Earth.  The universe is three times older than our Earth.  There was time before Earth for many, many planets teeming with life, for unimaginably advanced civilizations to come and go and reappear and flourish, to expand and to perish long before the first life on Earth.  An awakening awaits us, more fantastic than those uncontacted peoples who will soon bump against civilization.



Must there be ever one bleak day
Whose dark surpasses all the rest?
In vain we seek a single ray
Our hopes to spark, our gloom to stay…

This grim ordeal is but a test
The light we draw from our own vest
Yields confidence to point the way,
Illumines our unfinished quest.

— Josh Mitteldorf