Uncommon Sense

September 19, 2021

The Purpose of Human Existence

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:58 am
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I continue to write about this because I see questions galore on Quora and Medium about “the purpose of our existence at the material/physical level.” For some people just the miracle of our existence is insufficient, there must be a grand scheme behind the scenes that we are helping to fulfill.

Allow me to throw a bucket of cold water on this idea through a favorite tool of Albert Einstein’s: the thought experiment.

Here is how it goes: for a period of 24 hours, human beings disappear and leave no trace. Along with us disappearing, so does all of our superstitious claptrap: souls, ghosts, etc. . . . all gone, but for just 24 hours.

What purpose or purposes do you think would exist once we were gone? I suggest “all gone.” Of course if we left behind written records alien archeologists could decipher them and discern that we believed we had a purpose in the universe. When they stopped laughing, they would recognize that our species hadn’t really been around for long when it fell.

Before the 24 hours elapses and we come back, ask yourself: how would the rest of the universe be affected by our disappearance? I hope you would see that there would be no effect of any note on the rest of the universe.

Purposes are things we invent. We invent them for ourselves, as individuals, and sometimes we band together in groups around a shared purpose. Shared purposes can also be very large, such as winning a total war in your country against an invading force, but it takes a large number of people to shape that purpose and keep it going.

The desire that there be some outside purpose for the existence of humanity as a whole, is the wish for there to be some supernatural agent which will take responsibility, rather than us taking responsibility for ourselves, as it were. Which of these two beliefs is the child-like one? Is it any wonder that so many religions ask you to “become like a child,” because if you do, then you de facto accept a belief in the existence of that deity, all because you didn’t want to take responsibility for yourself and for a few people around you.

The seeking for a grand overall purpose for all this is an egotistical juvenile search. If you just look at your life openly you will see that you have many purposes you have created all by yourself: you have the purpose of being a good parent, for example, or an exemplary worker, or a purpose to make a shitload of money, or a purpose to be the best player at you local poker game, or. . . . If you have a goal and act upon it, you have a purpose. If you want a purpose, establish a goal and start acting upon it. Go around and tell people your purpose(s) and you may even find people who share one of them and will help you meet it.

Should you decide to search out the grand overall purpose of humanity, be sure to wear your diapers.

September 13, 2021

Collective Unconscious . . . or Collected Unconscious?

The philosopher/psychiatrist Carl Jung’s contribution to the “transcendental” aspects of out lives was the “discovery” of the collective unconscious.

What exactly this is is often dependent on who is describing it. One author describes it thusly: “This layer contains the accumulated historical, collective experiences of humanity. It is … the psychology of the instincts of humanity.” When asked what the contents of this collective aspect of the mind are his answer was that they “relate to the common experiences of humanity. They are the mental component of the instincts.”

Uh, okay.

It seems impossible to write about the contents of Jung’s collective unconscious without once mentioning the word archetypes. This word literally means “original types,” and is therefore considered to mean “some kind of plan which organizes causal factors, operating from a metaphysical dimension of the collective unconscious, shaping life at the material level.”

This was considered by many to be Jung’s most significant contribution to the understanding of the unconscious psyche. (I love the fact that the word psyche stems from a word meaning “breath,” likely derived from the “breath of life.” It has also been equated with the word soul, which I find ironic in that therefore a soul is just hot air.)

The reason I labeled Jung as a philosopher/psychiatrist is that he seems to be desirous of resurrection Plato’s forms, including a quasi-transcendent realm in which they exist.

The existence of “unconscious minds” is accepted today with little quarrel. It encompasses all of the mental activities, mental skills, and what have you, that we are unaware of as they operate. The use of “brain scanners” (fMRI, etc.) has brought us the first real data we can use to study these activities. For example, we now know that imagining an image utilizes the same brain regions as seeing an actual image, even when we are dreaming.

But imparting special powers to these “realms” is not at all supported. So, cataloging things that our unconscious minds can do may find that we share certain abilities in common, after all we are using the same hardware, does not imply any connectivity at all. There is a great deal unaccounted for when children are trained first by their parents and then by their teachers. And, of course, people take Jung’s work run off making claims such as “we are all connected,” or “we are all one,” and even “the universe is conscious and we are just motes in that consciousness.”

I would be shocked to not find commonalities in our unconscious mental abilities. And we can collect this information but does that imply a “collective” unconscious? I think not. In Jung’s time he did not have the tools we have now and we may yet discover such a thing, but it will hinge, I am sure, on what mechanism allows one unconscious mind to connect to others to make a collective possible.

I think such conclusions are hugely premature, driven by a strange to me desire on the part of many fellow humans that there be a “transcendent realm,” or collection of things that transcend reality. I can’t think of anything more steeped in superstition and con artistry. The ideas of heavens and hells, after lives of various other sorts, fairy realms, etc. The idea of a “life after life” couldn’t be more contradictory. The idea of reincarnation is also rife with transcendent tomfoolery. Where are souls stored before they are recycled? What the heck is a soul? Who operates the machinery? etc. (As a teacher, I found reincarnation very attractive in that if you didn’t learn your lessons, you had to repeat a grade, or grades(!), until you did!)

The idea of something, anything, transcending reality is so potent an idea that it takes collected unconscious abilities and elides them over to collective unconscious abilities, almost whether that makes any sense at all.

If Jung hadn’t have done it, casual readers surely would.

If these people had a theme song, I suspect it would be this:

Is That All There Is?
I remember when I was a little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the
Burning building out on the pavement

And I stood there shivering in my pajamas
And watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself
Is that all there is to a fire?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old
My daddy took me to the circus, the greatest show on Earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads

And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over I said to myself
Is that all there is to the circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world
We’d take long walks by the river or
Just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
And when I didn’t I said to myself
Is that all there is to love?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me, I’m not ready for that final disappointment
Because I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
That when that final moment comes and I’m
Breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Leiber Jerry / Stoller Mike

September 2, 2021

Instead of Expanding Circles of Concern, Republicans Circle the Wagons

I have been, philosophically in an case, fairly close to the Stoics as long as I can remember. Recently I decided to bone up on Stoicism to see if this were still true (it is). I recently ran across this statement in my studies:

The Roman Stoic Hierocles spoke of our “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind. Beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible.

Clearly Heirocles would never be admitted into the Republican Party. He sounds more like the Democrats of 20 or so years ago, but those Dems are long gone, replaced by Corporate Democrats. The GOP are doing the exact opposite to the stated desire of those Stoic philosophers, they are trying to build politically gated communities in which to live by their own set of twisted rules.

Corporatism is the abject enemy of the sentiment described above and will be the downfall of us all. It seems that all societies/cultures rise and fall, so there will need to be a cause of our fall, to be declared well after the fall is obvious. Our ability to see such things beforehand is zero to less than zero.

The modern Republican Party is ruled by ideologies centered on “I’ve got mine” and “I owe you nothing.” These, of course, contradict the ideals of the founders of the Constitution who felt that individual citizens (and groups of citizens) had to yield up some personal liberty for the greater good of the entire enterprise. They referred to “civic virtue” to describe such actions. So, the FFs would have looked at getting vaccinated in a time of pandemic as a civic virtue and would be all for it. In fact, George Washington required it of his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. (If not, our army would have been wiped out due to smallpox.)

Modern-day Republican professional athletes, who said “I’ll do anything to be able to play professional sports” two years ago are saying “I’ll quit rather than get vaccinated” now.

This surely must be the direct opposite to civic virtue, taking freedoms rather than donating ever so slightly to the commonweal. The opposite of virtue is vice, so I coin a new term “civic vice” to describe this idiotic behavior. These people are unwilling to give an inch to be a member of the group we call citizens of the United States of America. Their only recourse is to leave as we should not extend any of the benefits of citizenship to people who betray the basic foundations of being a citizen of this country. They should not receive the protections of the law and military, they should not be allowed to use public roads and other public facilities (sports stadia, buses, street cars, etc.). They have become one of those they have despised. They have declared themselves to be “illegal aliens” of the most despicable sort. They siphon off the benefits of citizenship without contributing to the common good.

It is time to expel these illegal aliens as they have renounced their citizenship.

August 2, 2021

The Man Behind THE MAN

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:18 am
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Question: Who did the most to shape the concept of the Christian god? You are probably thinking of Paul or even Jesus, but they are not even close . . . it was Plato.

Plato’s philosophy revolved around the idea of “Forms.” Forms were the perfect example behind every real example. So, if we were to draw a triangle, say, on a piece of paper with a straight edge and a sharp pencil, we could only draw an imperfect representation of a perfect triangle. Perfect triangles are beyond our grasp. For Plato, all things had a Form, a perfect state which, of course could not, be found as they exist in an abstract state but independent of minds in their own realm. He could have said, beyond space and time, but I don’t think he did.

Since men were “things” there had to be a perfect Form for humanity, of course, and guess who that was. Plato’s supreme god is unlike the fickle, jealous, quarrelsome gods of the Greek pantheon, his god is distanced from compassion for human tragedy, because compassion is a passion or emotion. For Plato, the character of the true deity is not merely goodness, but also oneness and while he didn’t make the connection himself, it also represents perfection. Being perfect, the supreme god is without passions, since passions involve change from one mood to another, and it is in the nature of perfection that it cannot change. This passionless perfection contrasts with the passion, compassion, and constant intervention of Israel’s God.

It is hard to imagine how Plato’s god could create the sort of changeable, imperfect, messy world in which we live or even have any meaningful contact with it. While the Hebrews had a god who walked around with them, tenting as it were, Plato’s god wouldn’t be caught dead doing such things.

Plato’s philosophy was, of course, bankrupt, but it did frame out a god piece for humanity. Plato took the idea of an absolute, that doesn’t exist because there is no incremental path or set of corrections from being imperfect to being perfect. An absolute might be an imaginary goal that gets us to stretch ever closer to something near perfect, but one has to realize that the absolute of anything is an imaginary thing. Plato not only stated that all absolutes were real, but had a residence where they could receive mail. But Plato’s realm of forms would have to be static as if all things are perfect nothing could change.

I don’t know if Plato worked backward from a concept of a god as a perfect form of man to which we could never measure up and then applied that scheme to everything else or whether the idea grew from the idea of imagined absolutes and just found a natural connection between man and the concept of a god.

If the god of Plato is God, then there could only be one (I heard that from a guy who called himself The Highlander) as anything different had to be less than perfect. And, like the other Forms, this god couldn’t live amongst the hoi polloi, now could he? He had to live “an abstract state but independent of minds in (his) own realm.” But as a special thing, you could go join Plato’s god in his realm when you die, presumable as the perfect form of yourself. Of course, this Form of you would go on forever, because it is static with nothing changing, not your shape, position, behavior, nothing. Maybe this is why there are so few descriptions of what the heaven waiting for us are actually is. (Welcome to Static City, the City That Won’t Change on You!)


July 28, 2021

You Choose Who You Want to Be

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:26 am

This phrase is one of the inspiring quotes/tattoos/memes that are bandied about as being a bit of wisdom.

Let’s unpack it, shall we?

When you are born you are provided with a genetic makeup including characteristics such as your potential height, possible intelligence, eye and hair color, etc.  none of which you “chose.” They you are governed by programmed behaviors that all humans tend to have for a while, then you are raised by parents who are brilliant or inept or somewhere in between at their job. They may love you for who you are or not. None of this you chose.

So far, there is not much choice involved in becoming who you are or are to be.

At a certain age we all acquire some control over how our lives go and how adept were you at this point at proactively shaping who you wanted to be? Imagine teenagers who desire is to be rich, or become an influencer, or a rapper, or an NBA basketball star. How often do those plans play out?

Possibly this statement needs a bit of amendment. Possibly they mean “You May Get to Choose Who You Want to Be.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. If you have the will and acquire the personal development skills and get appropriate help along the way, you may be able to shape you own destiny. An example of doing this is the football great Hershel Walker. As a child he was chubby and weak and poorly coordinated. He got tired of being bullied and started improving his body by doing hundreds of sit-ups and pushups daily (yes, he worked up to those levels). He increased his running speed by racing trains that plowed through his town. He became a star athlete in high school, then college , and then the NFL, and has stuck to his regimen and still has a sculpted body though he is over 50 years old. But he didn’t choose this parents, physical stature, etc. he just shaped what he had into something that served him better.

Of course, had he been born into slavery or into a very poor country which didn’t have schools or college sports or professional athletics, then he might not have been so successful. Unbeknownst to Republicans, some luck is involved.

So, this catch phrase might be better put as “If You Are Lucky, You May Get to Choose Somewhat of Who You Want to Be.”

There, that’s better.

June 3, 2021

W.C. Fields, a Great Comedian/Philosopher

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:20 am
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I was reading a blurb for a book featuring some of W.C. Fields great lines. Fields created a persona of being a lush, which would not fly now (but did in my youth, thank you Foster Brooks). The blurb writer did not include my favorite Fields quote, which was his take on “spirituality.” I believe it went “Everybody ought to believe something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

I think comedians are modern day court jesters, and since we govern ourselves, they send their barbs toward all of us. I miss George Carlin. There was none better at that role.

May 11, 2021

A Life Filling Boxes (Check Boxes Anyway)

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 11:05 am
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I have been reading an interesting book “Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing” by Arthur M. Melzer. One section struck me as I am quite long in the tooth and just spent some time in a hospital emergency room two days ago, so my “end of life experience is much closer than farther away. Here it is (the section, not my end of life experience):

“The crucial point concerns what is meant by a ‘philosopher.’1 In the older view, it is not simply a person like “you and me,” only with a particular interest in philosophy (although there are such people too, of course), any more than a saint is a person with a peculiar liking for religion. Again, philosophy is not a specific subject matter like botany or geology, or a particular technique or expertise, as in the contemporary phrase ‘a professional philosopher.’ It is above all a distinct way of life—something that makes one a different type of human being. One is a philosopher not so much because of what one does or is able to do as because of what one most fundamentally loves and lives for. The philosopher is the person who, through a long dialectical journey, has come to see through the illusory goods for which others live and die. Freed from illusion—and from the distortion of experience that illusion produces—he is able, for the first time, to know himself, to be himself, and to fully experience his deepest longing, which is to comprehend the necessities that structure the universe and human life as part of that universe. This is the famous vita contemplativa, an ideal of life found, in one form or another, among virtually all classical and medieval thinkers and still powerful among many modern thinkers as well.”

“We of course know all about this contemplative ideal but have a tendency to misunderstand by assimilating it to the intellectual models that dominate today, such as the scientist, the scholar, and the intellectual. ones. Today, we admire the great scientist, scholar, and intellectual primarily for their extraordinary ability, for what they can do, not for their unique way of living and being.”

What struck me is that in my life I have been a scientist, a scholar, and an intellectual, as well as a philosopher. So, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

I trained from high school onward to become a chemist, a scientist, and became a professor of chemistry, so I think that qualifies me as being a scientist (at a bare minimum my advanced degree required original research, so I did contribute a tidbit of scientific knowledge to the pool).

I have been a scholar of education, producing papers on the status of general education and one on chemical education. Currently I am a scholar of archery, specifically the coaching of archery and have close to a dozen books in my name on that topic.

I have made my living since college with my mind and rarely my body, so that is somewhat of a qualification for being an intellectual. Currently I write and edit magazines and books for publication.

And, as to being a philosopher, I have studied philosophy for long. I had a minor in it in college and have read on the topic continuously ever since. This, as mentioned above, does not make me a philosopher (maybe an academic one) as I like the definition provided, a philosopher who has a philosophy guiding their life, and I do have that.

A quote provided in the book above hammers this home “Michel de Montaigne, who began to philosophise when he lost a dear friend, wrote an essay entitled “That to Study Philosophy is to Learn How to Die.” This is really an extreme way of saying that we can use our reason to quell our fears, but also take back control of our lives from fear and sadness. ‘A man who has learned to die,’ he wrote, ‘has unlearned how to be a slave.’”

As I told the techs in the emergency room, “People my age look at this as a dress rehearsal,” which says something about me in that I was having a great deal of trouble breathing, due to asthma, but not too much to make quips to entertain “my audience.” (An audience is a group of people who “hear” and this was a captive audience, but an audience nonetheless.)

I can’t wait to see that the bill will be for the EMTs and hospital for a three hour period of their services. That will probably provide fodder for another post. And, I may continue my slide into arrogance and post on my personal philosophy, but probably only if I get provoked to do so by comments! :o)

April 27, 2021

Deepak Chopra BS

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor of some sort (his certification is in internal medicine; he specialized in endocrinology) and yet he is better known as a new age guru who harkens back to being an old age guru (he is a fan of chakras and other aspects of Indian medicine). Note This is why I refer to him as Mr. Chopra below because his doctorate is not in a field that impinges at all with his opinions in this article. Were he writing on the pandemic and endocrinology, I would refer to him as Dr. Chopra.

In an online essay (A Reality Reset is Coming) Mr. Chopra emphasizes the “flaws” of materialism. He refers to a recent experiment on muons that “may” challenge the standard model of physics. I emphasize the “may” because such things come along with great regularity. And, also with great regularity, the predicted possible disruption of current theory does not happen. On the flip side, experiment after experiment confirms the standard model, but those experiments do not make the news. Maybe the last one that did was the “discovery” of the Higgs boson. I say discovery because its existence was predicted decades earlier and what was looked for was a conformation of its existence. Predicted by the Standard Model and then found. Quite a success.

But Mr. Chopra goes on to state “Materialism, it turns out, is just a plausible story, not a viable way to explain the world around us and certainly not the world “in here” where the mind operates.” He goes on to list many things that have not been explained . . . yet:
• No one knows where the Big Bang came from.
• No one knows how life began.
• The origin of time, space, matter, and energy remain totally hidden.
• The two leading theories in physics, General Relativity (which explains how large objects work) and quantum mechanics (which explains how tiny things work) turn out to be seemingly incompatible.
• The relation of mind and brain is as up in the air as it was at the time of Plato and Aristotle.
• The nature of consciousness and how it evolved—if it evolved—cannot be agreed upon.

I suppose Mr. Chopra thinks that these are trivial problems that should have been solved decades ago, but he glides over several thousand years of philosophy and religion having failed to solve these problems. Consider that roughly 100 years ago, we thought that our Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. We knew nothing of the Big Bang. We had no evidence of planets existing around other stars. We knew little to nothing about quantum mechanics. Both special and general relativity had been postulated but at most fewer than 100 people understood those theories.

And Mr. Chopra is criticizing that which brought all of that knowledge to us.

He concludes “To boil things down to their most basic, if you don’t know where the universe came from and are equally baffled by where thoughts come from, how reliable is your explanation of reality? Intellectual honesty forces an answer: not reliable at all. Persuasive stories and unexamined assumptions riddle our current worldview.”

Okay, Mr. Chopra. Exclude materialism and explain . . . reality for all of us. Go ahead, we will wait.

And as to the reliability isue. I offer a test to Mr. Chopra. I will hold a 50 lb weight over his foot and ask him what he would do if I looked as if I were to drop that weight? He, like ever other person, would move his foot out of the downward path of that weight. That behavior, aka falling, is dependable, even though we still don’t know what gravity is. Dependability is based upon testing, not upon whether one knows where the universe or thoughts come from.

April 25, 2021

The Meaning of Life, Part Whatever

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am
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If you have read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on “the meaning of life,” mainly that meaning is something we create, rather than something given to us or something we find.

Just to cover all of the bases, I decided to open myself up to a feeling of purpose, of meaning from outside of me. I tried not to force anything, like a source or even a meaning, I just opened myself to the possibility and went about my business.

Both my partner an I are long in the tooth (she is 67, I am 74) and have mastered taking care of one another and ourselves fairly well, and our children are launched into very nice lives, so what other meaning might present itself?

And then it came to me, apparently our meaning in life at this stage of our lives is to make her dog happy. When I see the two of them together playing and the dog is happy, I am happy. When he wants a treat or to be petted, I oblige and am happy to do that. He seems happy to be with me, also, although he has a bit of a licker problem. He likes to lick my chin very, very much, even early in the morning before I have shaved, so I assume he may just be cleaning his tongue off, but he seems to want that and I am happy to oblige.

Never having been a “dog person” through much of my life, maybe I missed the meaning in my earlier life of making my cats happy, can’t really tell.

Considering how much Americans spend on their dogs, maybe this is the meaning of life much of us share. So, is this meaning god-given? If so, it would have to be Anubis or Set if Egyptian, Fenris, or maybe Hecate, or the Morrigan (I am part Irish, you know), or, oh, in America it might just be Coyote, the trickster god. If so then this “meaning” we perceive from the outside may be a trick on our meaning seeking natures.

The search goes on!

PS I just realized that dog is god spelled backwards . . . a sign do you think?

April 23, 2021

Why Would God Care About Morality?

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:09 pm

This is a rather brilliant and novel essay on the question portrayed in the title above.

Why Would God Care About Morality?



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