Class Warfare Blog

May 28, 2020

If Reality Were a Simulation, Could It Be Possible to Alter the Past of the Simulation?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:47 am
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I answered the question in the title of this post on Quora and I wanted to share it with you to see how you might respond to my final question (If you were an all-powerful deity, what would you do first?).

Here’s my answer to the question (slightly edited).

* * *

Sure, the simulation is stored as files and those files can be edited or overwritten. You could even retroactively change the rules involved.

Basically, if you believe in an all-powerful deity, what we have is the equivalent of a simulation. Such a deity could have created our reality 15 minutes ago, providing each of us with false memories leading us to believe what we believe now. Would we know any better?

If I were such a deity in our current reality, here are the first things I would do. First I would uncreate Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, etc and wipe the memories of these entities and their domains from human memory. Then I would adjust human free will, leaving 99+% of it intact but removing the Will to do Evil. Nobody would be inclined to do anything evil from that point onward but we would be free to prefer vanilla over chocolate, choose Toyota over Chevy, even so far as to freely choose to put pineapple on a pizza.

There are many, many things such an all-powerful deity could do … but hasn’t, at least to our knowledge.

If you had such power, what would you do first?

May 21, 2020

The Purpose of Your Life

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 9:52 am
You probably already know what I think about discussions of the purpose of life, the generic question, but what about the purpose of an individual’s life?

This topic was prompted by something I read, namely “The job I hope for, what I consider the most important part of what I see as my purpose, helping people, is to become a teacher.”

The adopted purpose of “helping people” or “helping others” comes off of the tongue quite easily as a stated purpose for one’s life. It even fell off of my tongue at one point in my life. It is still part of my pantheon of purposes but is stated quite differently now . . . “I enjoy helping people.”

The whole “my purpose in life is to help others” is bogus . . . sorry. The reason it is can be found in one simple question: “If your purpose in life is helping others, then why do the others exist?”

May 16, 2020

Oh, Boy, I Never Thought of This Before

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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Like many of you I have been binge watching things available on cable TV services. I ran across a British series, Quark Science, on Amazon Prime that I have been enjoying, and even learned a thing or two. The episode I watched last night was on entropy and chaos theory and as they went into explaining chaos theory, I had quite a string of revelations.

For those of you who haven’t considered chaos theory it basically describes systems with multiple parts that contain feedback, which is basically all natural systems, and that such systems are inherently chaotic in that they cannot be predicted. The reason being is that they are very sensitive to the “initial conditions” and minor variations in those initial conditions affect substantially the final outcome. This is where the “Butterfly Effect” inherent in the question “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” comes from (and all of its other variants over the years).

In any case, I had a number of revelations from this excursion through science for the people.

#1 Chaos theory explains why determinism isn’t a possibility. In the centuries long free will debates there is often a road block in the form of the question as to whether we live in a deterministic universe, or not. If we actually live in a “clockwork universe” are all of our choices determine by stimuli and responses that are perfectly predictable? If we do live in a deterministic universe, then free will is an illusion. We are just robots responding to the stimuli we receive. Well, chaos theory shows us that we cannot live in a deterministic universe, because minor variations in any system can produced vastly different outcomes.

#2 Predicting the future is not possible. Since determinism isn’t possible, there is no basis, no cause-effect chain, that allows predicting of the future. As ancient people, we were obsessed with predicting the future. The reason was if you could predict what was going to happen, you could protect yourself from adverse changes and take advantage of the others. The Romans, for example, were very interested in Judaism because of their written records of prophecies (and their claims of accuracy). Chaos theory explains why weather prediction is about as good as it will get right now.

#3 Emergent properties make a lot more sense now. Emergent properties are properties that break any and all causal relationships established before then emerged. Chaos theory makes these more understandable.

#4 Chaos theory explains why the universe is the way it is. The laws of physics describe a transition during the Big Expansion of the universe, aka “The Big Bang,” from its initial almost all energy state to the formation of particles and then atoms. Those laws indicate that there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter created. But our universe is almost all matter . . . where is all the antimatter? Why the asymmetry between the creation of matter and antimatter? The scenario goes like this: as the particles formed, there would be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter which would self-annihilate and produce light and so the universe would become an expanding sphere of light, The End. But the data show that a part per billion excess of matter over anti-matter would yield the universe we know now. In that scenario, the particles would form and the matter and anti-matter particles would annihilate, producing an immense flask of light (later to become the Cosmic Background Radiation) but a part per billion concentration of matter would be left over, enough to create all of the stars, planets and galaxies in the universe.

But where could a 1 ppb difference between the two forms of matter come from? Well, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory almost guarantee these two forms would not be created in exactly equal amounts, and voila! (Note To grasp the size of a part per billion, take quite a large swimming pool and fill it with pinto beans. Then throw in one black bean. Stir. The concentration of black beans in the mixture is roughly 1 ppb.)

Interestingly, we don’t really know which form of matter survived. We call the one that survived matter and the one that did not anti-matter, but since their properties are opposites of one another, we just really know they are opposites, not which one we have.

There is much, much more that the chaos theory helps clarify, such as the self-organization of matter and so on. All of these things fly, splat!, into the face of our limited thinking. Most of us, me included, are still immersed in the “clockwork universe” thinking we inherited from Victorians. We still think of the world around us as being mechanisms, complex mechanism for sure, but much like the gears and levers in a mechanical device. Scientists have passed beyond that previous view and moved on but many of the rest of us, me included, haven’t followed because thinking about such things is hard! Really hard.

But programs, or rather programmes, like Quark Science make them much, much easier to understand. I recommend the series to you.

And, since I am in speculation mode, I suspect that my clinging to the clockwork universe paradigm is an artifact of my education. As scientists we are taught classical sciences before we are taught “modern sciences.” Our early thinking patterns are determined by the paradigms of classical science. This is why we find the transition to modern science difficult. And, if one goes on to study ancient science, it is hard to learn also because they were thinking quite differently from how we think now.

May 10, 2020

The Biological Basis of Morality

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am
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I was reading, from the recommendation of Professor Taboo, an article in The Atlantic written by Edward O. Wilson in 1998 entitled “The Biological Basis of Morality.” I am only part way through part 1 but a statement appeared that gave rise to a comment. Here is that statement:

I am an empiricist. On religion I lean toward deism, but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics. The existence of a God who created the universe (as envisioned by deism) is possible, and the question may eventually be settled, perhaps by forms of material evidence not yet imagined.

And my comment, is I believe a corollary to Clarke’s Third Law (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.), asks if a deistic creator of the universe can be distinguished from an alien with access to very advanced technology? Remember that a deistic creator, launches his creation and then withdraws form the sandbox. So, any fingerprints it might have left behind are 13.8 billion years old at this point.

I argue that the two are not distinguishable (making my corollary: a deistic creator god is indistinguishable from an alien with very advanced technology), so referring to one or the other as closer to the truth is disingenuous.

* * *

And as is always the case in any morality discussion my mind ferments.

In most of these discussions, including those on free will, there seems to be little attention paid to emergence. Emergent properties of a system have interesting properties. They are usually unpredictable and they certainly break all causal chains and thus argue against a deterministic universe. This, of course, requires an example.

When the automobile was invented, did anyone predict traffic as congested and chaotic as we have it today? And, could anyone upon the basic of, say traffic congestion alone, predict the design of the automobiles causing it? There is clearly a good causal chain, or rather chains, involved in any kind of automobile. (You push the pedal down and the music goes round and round, etc.) Automotive engineers are hired who understand every cause-effect link in the chain, down to tire squirm. But is there anything in the design of those automobiles that allows us to predict the kinds and effects of traffic congestion? I say the answer is “no” as traffic congestion is an emergent property of cars and roads.

Thinking back upon how we became societal, I think the first bands of humans were family bands. We were designed (by evolution, of course) to be social animals, so we had built into us the idea that collectively we had a better chance of surviving than if we all tried to stand alone. So a band of Homo sapiens sapiens started out as a male and female and their children. But as time wore on this little band grew naturally, either through more children or children growing up and having children, or from accepting strays (survivors of the destruction of other families, or finding mates in other groups, etc.). There seems to be a natural upper limit on the size of such groups with evidence indicating that when a family group gets to be of a certain size it splits into two groups. (One of those limitations is how rapidly such a group can exhaust any locales resources. Splitting the group allows time for recovery of any locale between visits of the two bands, each of which harvests less from those locales. And since there was plenty of room, the two bands could follow quite different paths and not share any particular locale, although evidence indicates that these groups set up somewhat regular “meets” to exchange goods and family members.)

Once physical bounty becomes available, such as occurred naturally in river terrains, the upper limit on the size of a quasi-family group (everyone being kind-sorta relatives) went up and agriculture and civilization began their little dance.

Even when the bands were quite small, societal rules evolved naturally as emergent properties of the group. If the same problem came up over and over, say children fighting over who got what food, a structure might have been set up to reduce the tension these created (e.g. “We will take turns.”). Group cohesion was considered a general good as “in numbers lies strength.” So, a hunter who goes out and kills a deer comes back to the group and distributed pierces of meat to the members of the group. This deals with the lack of an ability to store meat (it rots fairly fast in warm climates, and also draws predators, so the safest place to store it is in the bellies of the tribe members). It also creates a nascent altruism.

As these groups got larger, managing a wide range of behaviors became problematic. When the patriarch/matriarch were unavailable to settle problems or weren’t strong enough, men’s and women’s circles were invented to teach the members of those groups and to resolve disputes.

All of these things are natural, emergent, outgrowths of a social species, especially one that learns to communicate significantly (which facilitates learning and dispute resolution).

I assume Dr. Wilson will make these points as I continue reading, but I consider these things inevitable. A highly communicative social species, should end up with general rules of behavior to keep the group viable and on an even keel emotionally. And voila, morals are born.

Note We are now learning that Neanderthals may have had some form of speech available to them (their DNA suggests this). If we hadn’t bumped them off of their perch, they might still be around today, having all of the basics to form complex societies. (They still had differences/limitations to deal with, such as a shoulder joint unable to perform an overhand throw, such as of a spear, so they probably wouldn’t have invented baseball, but they might have invented softball.)





May 9, 2020

Can Atheists Be Moral?

Note A Sunday-ish post … early! Steve

Being an empiricist, my answer is “of course” as it has been demonstrated over and over that atheists are no less moral than non atheists. But allow me to step away from that and approach the issue differently.

A main approach is that a morality not given by a god is declared to be subjective rather than objective, even worse it is declared to be relative! And I say . . . so?

The declaration of a god-driven morality to be objective is a bit specious in that gods change their minds all of the time, so how is that “objective?” (For people who just gasped regarding my claim that gods change their minds, consider Yahweh’s decision to kill off all of the humans he created by flooding. He basically states that he regretted making us. If that isn’t a change of mind, what the hell is it?)

And subjective and relative are not necessarily bad things. Many of the people who argue in favor of objective morality, that is god-given, politically argue for “local control” of various governmental functions (education, how to run elections, etc.). Local control of things means that local people get to negotiate for what they want to happen. But this would be disastrous when it comes to morality, no?


We are social animals, we negotiate social behaviors on the fly and we are quite good at it. Remember back to when ATMs were introduced? There were no protocols or procedures as to their use, other than the bank’s instructions as to how to operate the machines. But shortly after their introduction, we adopted the general principle that if a line forms, a largish gap was created between the current user and the next user. In this fashion, the current user didn’t have to worry about anyone prying into their business with the bank or swiping their PIN or . . . you know. And who created this process? Who implemented it? Who enforced it? Basically, we did, with absolutely no fuss or muss . . . because we are good at establishing social norms. We have been doing it for millennia and are well practiced at this task.

But moral issues aren’t negotiable, you say. Think again. Some issues are obviously non-negotiable to most people. Just go online and make an argument that murder should not be considered immoral. Do you think you would get any “takers,” serious takers, for your new moral precept? I think not. I think you would get aghast responses from serious people and trolling responses from most of the rest.

And what about the “objective moral code” that said that pre-marital sex would send you straight to Hell? What about the “objective moral code” that said that divorce was an abomination? What happened to the moral code that forbade the mixing of wool and linen in a single cloth to make garments? (Yes, that was one of Yahweh’s 613 commandments.) What happened to the moral code that you should always marry within your faith? What happened to the moral code that you should marry within your race?

If these things are not negotiable, and hence not relative/subjective, how come they are constantly changing?



May 2, 2020

The Same Old, Lame Arguments

The question is often posited as to why religious apologists, especially Christian apologists, keep using old arguments that have been refuted centuries, if not millennia ago, arguments like Pascal’s Wager, or Anselm’s arguments, or Tertullian’s arguments.

I think I finally understand and it is from a “follow the money” style approach such as serves well in politics. There is a perception that the arguments proffered are designed to convince nonbelievers to become believers, and if any of this actually occurs, I suggest that that is incidental. I think the main audience for such apologetics is not unbelievers, but believers, to keep the faithful in their pews, as it were.

Offering an intellectual argument for why one’s faith is well-founded, even if there is little understanding of the argument by the hearer, lends credence to their faith in the form of “see, this college professor/philosopher/well-educated person believes and he has reasons, even if I do not understand them.”

The re-use of hoary old arguments is based upon some simple facts: one is that the arguments were convincing the first time they were offered (convincing to believers, that it) so if a modern believer hadn’t heard of that argument before, it is a revelation. Young believers on sites such as Quora ask naïve question referring to these arguments as if they were slam dunk conclusive . . . because the people offering them don’t offer a balance treatment when doing so, they only point out the “obvious.” (A balanced treatment would offer discussions of why the argument works at some level and fails at others, such as would be offered in a college philosophy classroom.)

A second reason is that apologists don’t get paid by atheists. They get paid to speak at religious conferences, they get paid because a religious publication accepts their offerings for publication (often professors must “publish or perish”), they get paid to be a guest speaker at a church, they get paid to debate atheists (normal in neutral or churchly settings).

The major admonition in public speaking is to “know your audience.” Most audiences can follow a short snappy argument, but not a long point by point dissection of that argument, for which they have little patience and possibly little understanding either.

Apologists do not often point out that nothing can be “proven” through a philosophical argument. If you have brute facts as premises and a bulletproof argument, then all you have is that “if the premises are true, so too is the conclusion.” In other words, the conclusion is inherent in the premises. If the premises are false or simply are not brute facts, then the conclusions will be also. So, a common method of tweaking an argument is to “tweak” the premises. Here is a common premise used in the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of a God or Gods: “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” If this “premise” is accepted, you will conclusively prove that a god created the universe because the only two options are “explanation/no explanation” and we all think there is an explanation. The reason for that conclusion is that the conclusion is buried in the premise. Another way to state that is; “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, the only explanation is God.” So, no other explanation, of the myriad possibilities, is allowed. Well, then, “God created the universe!”

But that premise is not a premise, it is a mere assertion, an assertion of faith in fact. To understand this consider these variations of that “premise?”
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Allah.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Yahweh.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Anubis.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is Odin.
• If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Can you honestly argue that any of these is “obviously true,” the normal criterion to be applied to premises in logical arguments?

In fact, one cannot put “God” or “gods” in a premise of a philosophic argument because those are matters of faith and not “brute facts,” that all would agree to. (Another form of religious persecution being directed at Christians, I am sure.)

So, Christian apologists and others, keep trotting out the same old, tired, lame arguments that have existed as zombie arguments for centuries because they have new audiences coming out of Sunday Schools around the country and well that’s what they get paid to do.

April 11, 2020

The Hierarchy of Pearls and Swine

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
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The adage is “cast not your pearls before swine” which is a Biblical quote from the New Testament, which betrays yet again Jesus’ at best callous attitude toward “the people.” The full quote is “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6 KJV and evidence of deplorables in Biblical times?)

While addressing a frequent commenter on apologists/religious trolls on Quora, I realized there is a hierarchy of situations using this metaphor. Remember it is really about the importance of supplying important information to worthy recipients.

Here it is the hierarchy:

The Hierarchy of Pearls and Swine
1. casting real pearls before real swine
2. casting artificial pearls before real swine
3. casting real pearls before artificial swine
4. casting artificial pearls before artificial swine

Version 1 is the metaphor and infers that giving something of great value to something which cannot recognize the value is futile and destructive and possibly dangerous.

Version 2 describes the work of religious apologists. Imaginary “pearls of great price” are conjured up to be offered to the faithful.

Version 3 describes the selfless work of atheistic representatives tirelessly responding with truth to the apologists and trolls who ask insincere questions that begin with “Atheists, how . . .”

Version 4 describes Fox (sic) News trying to educate the Trump administration.

You heard it here first, now go forth and multiply the uses of these new categories.

Addendum A colleague of mine came up with one of these (#2-#4) 40+ years ago, so I am not the originator of the idea, just the promoter.

March 31, 2020

Wrap Up of “The Nature of Existence Companion Series”

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:55 pm

As further evidence that self-isolation is the devil’s plaything, I give you quite a number of posts today. SR

* * *

I have written a couple of times on a video series called “The Nature of Existence Companion Series,” which can be found on Amazon Prime (TV). This should wrap up my comments on that specifically, although there are some topics I will be blogging on stimulated by things in that series.

My main takeaway I have stated a couple of different ways, the latest being “Again, I was impressed by the ability of people to both (a) make shit up, and (b) not understand what they were saying.” Evangelical Christians making claims not supported anywhere in scripture, scientists making claims that are wrong (the universe was created in the Big Bang”), etc. An evangelical Christian saying over and over “The wages of sin are death.” Obviously every sinner and every believer dies (One death per customer, line up right here!). This catch phrase has been around for centuries and is based upon the misreading of the Book of Genesis, thinking that if Adam and Eve had stayed in the Garden of Eden, they would have been immortal. But Genesis clearly states that Adam and Eve were evicted, so they could not eat from the tree of life “and so live forever.” They were not evicted for disobedience, they were evicted for not being trustworthy. (This is another instance of Yahweh being a bad parent. He was willing to put a guard on the entrance to the Garden to keep Adam and Eve from entering and eating from the tree of life but he didn’t have the grace to allow them to stay, learn, and grow, by putting a guard at the tree of life. Or, crazy me, if these two trees were so fricking important, why not put guards on both of them before there was any such trouble, so that Adam and Eve were in no danger of being disobedient.

Another things stated over and over was thinking like people did thousands of years ago, that is when dichotomies reigned supreme. For example, “You can’t have love without suffering.” Really, if suffering didn’t exist no love would be displayed anywhere anytime? really? What is the opposite of love? Is it indifference? Is it hate? I have heard of love-hate relationships, do people suffer through those? The honest religions state that suffering is normal . . . unfortunate, but normal. The religions that have hijacked every damned thing under the sun as being a gift from their god have a problem, though. They have to explain suffering as coming from their god. A Baptist minister wondered what his ancestors did wrong that they were enslaved and brought to America to become, eventually African-Americans. I almost broke my jaw hearing that statement as it hit the floor with a great impact. (It recalls the native American who said (this is from memory, so is probably a little inaccurate) “When the white man came, we had the land and he had the Bible. Now he has the land and we have the Bible.” Not a fair trade, not a fair trade at all.)

Most telling was a segment on sexuality and when pre-marital sex was brought up, the Taoist and Buddhist monks demurred, saying that they cannot comment on things they have no experience in. The Catholic priests and Muslims chimed in immediately stating how evil premarital sex was. Which, of course, makes us wonder why this ruling from these religions had to wait thousands of centuries of human history to be shared with us.

And, the philosophical thinking of mainstream religionists was not the only thing from thousands of years in our past. Casual remarks from casual theists exposed the belief that god must be real, otherwise why would the universe keep ticking along? A thousand years ago in Europe it was common knowledge that angels guided all of the planets along their paths. Christianity had adopted ancient Greek thinking as a worldview and in that world view if you started moving something it moved, but if you didn’t keep pushing it it would stop. Apparently none of the sages had ever seen a rock roll down hill or water flow “down” a river. In that thinking, the universe was alike a clockwork that had to have a mechanism behind it to keep everything moving. This thinking permeates scriptures from those eras and are displayed in the thinking of modern theists, which we would hope that by now would know better.

In any case, a fascinating look at what people “believe” which in itself is somewhat horrifying. We are supposed to solve modern problems brought about, mostly, by overpopulation with that level of thinking? We’re doomed, doomed I tell you.



March 29, 2020

On the Religious Experience and More

On Amazon Prime (TV) there is a video series called “The Nature of Existence Companion Series,” volume one of which was on the topic of Existence and Purpose which I blogged about a day or so ago. The series continues and last night I watch a segment that touched upon religion.

The wide variety of respondents to the questions of the videographer resulted, again, in a wide variety of responses. Interestingly, speaking to the “why religion?” question, almost everybody spoke about the need for a religion coming from inside the people involved. No mention was made, well little mention was made, of the fact that the vast majority of people are born into a pre-packaged religion, one they didn’t create for themselves. Only a very few comments mentioned the role of religion existing as a control from without. This I think is a manifestation of this con, everyone seems to think that it came about from some need of their own, when that idea was inculcated through the con.

One of the most interesting and cogent responses came from a high priest of a Satanist sect. That’s right, they found a good speaker for the Satanist religion. This gentleman, and he seemed quite gentlemanly, clarified that Satanists were not devil worshipers, that there were few actual devil worshipers, mostly rebelling teens seeking to get attention and he hoped they would get help dealing with their issues, but Satanists were not them. (Well!)

This speaker made a very nice argument that religions classified some ordinary human behaviors as being sinful, specifically because people could be counted upon to not give them up. (One of the questions was did sin have to be deeds or could it be just thoughts . . . the responses were mixed.) Because people would not give up these quite ordinary behaviors, they were always left seeking absolution for those sins (“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned . . .”) and then, our Satanist concludes, “they own you.” Indeed.

Again, I was impressed by the ability of people to both (a) make shit up, and (b) not understand what they were saying. One “confrontational evangelist” brought out the old saw that “the wages of sin were death,” which is based upon the mistaken idea that Adam and Eve’s “sin,” aka disobedience, cost them their immortality. This is not what scripture states. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden so that they would not eat from the tree of life, and thus live forever. But, gosh, that is such a great line it would be a shame to stop using it just because it is wrong. Plus, the error is compounded by the thinking that “Jesus” offers eternal life. Scripture states that we all live forever because we really are just meat wrappers for immortal souls. When we die (and we all get a death, not just sinners), the faithful take the up escalator to spend the rest of eternity, while the rest of us take the down escalator to spend the rest of eternity. What Jesus is offering is a Golden Ticket to “the Show” in Heaven.

That apologists err is not surprising. To err is human . . . (Alexander Pope) so that is to be expected, but the criterion used by apologists (apparently) is just whether a statement is effective, rather than is it correct and effect. This shows a certain laziness in the collective effort (there are college courses in apologetics) and also a commitment to truth that is malleable.

* * *

Other episodes addressed similar topics, all of which I responded to similarly. The range of responses was always there and always interesting. For example, when asked what the greatest threat to mankind was, most people said something along the lines of overpopulation or ecological collapse or people with evil in their hearts, but one quick response from a Catholic priest was “atheism.” I never knew I had such power as to threaten the existence of all humanity. <sigh>

I will expand a little on the question regarding whether sins need to be actions or can they be just thoughts. The thought police representatives were not what I would call the usual suspects, but many said “yes, thoughts alone can be sins.” But, we do not control our own thoughts, that is we do not create thoughts consciously, they seem to just pop into our heads. (An aside—when we read, another’s thoughts pop into our heads as we read them, and those thoughts differ from “our own” exactly how?) A number of respondents acknowledged this issue and addressed what happens to the thoughts that come to us and distinguished “sinful” versus “non-sinful” responses to those thoughts.

Another of the questions addressed free will and I was appalled at the lack of understanding shown. Quite a few of the respondents addressed the fact that our will is limited and we are not free to do impossible things. One respondent said we were not free to jump 250 feet up into the air. WTF? Most people understand free will as the ability to make choices that are available to you. Is this ability, to act from our own intentions freely or is it determined by physical stimuli. A number of the science types point out that determinism isn’t even possible because the physical foundation of reality is probabilistic, not deterministic, so to some extent our will must be free as there is no real alternative. (And folks, this should not always be laid at the lap of quantum mechanics even though it is the poster boy for non-deterministic behavior. Back in the nineteenth century there was huge resistance to the kinetic theory of gases because of the application of probabilistic math. This is because the religious educations of all western scientists were deterministic at the time.) A few actually addressed the question as one which shouldn’t be asked as answering it is a giant waste of time. (I tend to think that the question is premature and is therefore a giant waste of time, but it also might be a question we use to torment ourselves, amuse ourselves, whatever.

One respondent came up with what I will characterize as Pascal’s Wager for Free Will. This is fascinating. He argued this: it would be a real tragedy if we had free will to act as if we did not. (Think about it and you will agree.) Conversely, if we do not have it and act as if we did, there is no harm, so we should act as if we did have free will. QED This seems to be a Gordian Knot question being answered in an Alexandrian fashion.

Again, if you are a philosophy nerd, this is a fascinating collection. (I stop watching and switch to watching something else and then find myself back watching this. I wonder if there is a 12-step program for philosophy addicts.)

March 27, 2020

Existence and Purpose

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 10:00 am

On Amazon Prime (TV) last night I found a video series called “The Nature of Existence Companion Series,” volume one of which was on the topic of Existence and Purpose. The series claims to address the fundamental problems of philosophy, so I clicked on it and . . . wow! I was expecting the usual talking heads and they had quite a number of those, you know, academic philosophers, cosmologist and subatomic physicist, and what not, but they managed to include everybody . . . and I do mean everybody! They interviewed taxi drivers, pizza chefs, Buddhists in Japan and China, and a pair of seventh graders! The seventh grade girl was a breath of fresh air, very smart, and a shot across the bow of “professional” philosophers. Philosophy was always something entertained by the general population, not just a small category of eggheads, and anyone challenging the credentials of anyone wanting to participate in the dialogue better watch their backside.

So, they interviewed hippies, Druids, personal fitness coaches, gays and straights, people claiming to channel aliens, people in every mainstream of religious faith, including Jains and Hindus, and a large number of the lesser faiths. They interviewed scientists of many stripes, waitresses, I guess you get the idea.

Some of the questions addressed were: why are we here? What is the source of happiness? What is the purpose of life . . . of us? Why does the universe exist? What is love?, How do we stop conflict? and more.

People, listen up!
The universe was not created in the Big Bang!

There was more than a little wisdom involved and it didn’t just come from the usual sources. One priest claimed that we are “here” to learn about and to love god, and went on to admit he hadn’t the faintest idea why a god would want to do that.

The Buddhists pointed out that the Buddha thought the question “why are we here” to be silly and that it should not be asked. An Urdu poet pointed out that the question “why does the universe exist” is very premature in that we do not know all that much about what the universe is to explore such a question.

Of course, there were the expected “because God” answers to all of these questions and those responses were dutifully recorded and then moved on from.

From watching the first hour of the first video I came to an answer to the question: why do we exist? It seems we exist to generate as much bullshit as possible. When you hear dozens and dozens of answers to these questions, that conclusion is unavoidable.

Of course, one of the religious-leaning types compared the Big Bang, in which he claimed the universe was created out of nothing with a god creating the universe out of nothing. People, listen up! The universe was not created in the Big Bang! We do not know when or even if the universe was created. For all we know it has existed forever. The Big Bang was a transition point from a very small (Very!), very hot (Very!), and very dense (Very!) universe to the much larger, colder, and less dense universe we see today. We would all be better off if the event were known as the Big Expansion as that is what it was.

This video is recommended to all philosophy geeks. (My people, my people, I weep for my people.)


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