Uncommon Sense

April 1, 2023

Modernism and Postmodernism

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:03 pm
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I was reading a post about this topic and, being a philosophy geek, I was drawn to the two “philosophies.” Here are two quotes from that article:

Modernism is the assumption that the world is clearly-defined and measurable. There are facts that exist independently of any of us. Gravity will always be gravity. Two plus two will always be four.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, believes that certainty is impossible. No matter how many times you observe something, you can never know if it’s entirely true, mostly because the observer is always fallible.

Both of these “beliefs” are bogus and not at all steeped in reality. I seem to be writing more and more about our mistaking ideas about reality. Modernism is a hangover from the nineteen century leading into the twentieth. Over the preceding three or four centuries modern science birthed an explosion of knowledge and technology never seen before. There seemed to be nothing that science could not learn. Again, this is an absolute and if you haven’t heard me say it before but “there are no absolutes in nature.” (Wow, quoting myself; could hubris be far away!)

Postmodernism is an overcorrection, typical in human discourse. We go overboard in one direction, then we come back and go overboard in the opposite direction. The applicable aphorism is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Absolute certainty is possible, but ordinary certainty? Yep, we can do that.

Scientists are very acutely aware of their limitations. All measurements are subject to error, for example. Now, we don’t mean “error” in the sense of mistakes. Mistakes are things done incorrectly that can be corrected. Measurement error is inherent in the measuring process and translates as “measurement uncertainty.” All measurements are listed as something like “128 cm ± 0.5 cm.” By doing his we, using standard procedures, set rough upper and lower limits upon our measurements. But those are process limits. The actual value may be outside of those limits because of minute flaws in procedure or in instruments. (By actual value I mean a better measurement with a smaller measurement error.)

So, the scientific enthusiasm of modernists is misplaced to some extent. The over-reaction of postmodernists, claiming that all measurements are flawed because “because the observer is always fallible,” misses the mark entirely. It is not the fallibility of the observer that is a cause of weak measurements, although that is always involved, but the inherent nature of Nature. There are no perfect measurements. There never will be. And whether the researcher is fallible or not isn’t the issue.

Scientists are cognizant of their own fallibility. We know this because of the keystone of the scientific method, which is left out of all grade school discussions of “the method.” Scientists are in fact required to publish their work and in detail. They must include a description of the experiments conducted, listing instruments and equipment. All procedures must be listed so that another scientist could repeat the same experiment to see if the same results are acquired. So, if one scientist is fallible, what about ten? If you need a case study, go back and look at the brouhaha surrounding the announcement that “cold fusion” had been achieved (in 1989 a claim was made that nuclear fusion had occurred at room temperature — so “cold” fusion compared to the extremely high temperatures the process was thought to require). A major thrust from the scientific community centered on the announcement coming in a news conference and not in a peer-reviewed journal article. It took months for their procedures to be made available (under the guise of possible patentable processes worth billions of dollars) and a horde of scientists tried to reproduce their findings . . . and failed. People were still trying for years after the initial announcement and international meetings were had for researchers into the topic and the net result was <cricket, cricket>. Results that only one scientist or one team of scientist can get are not reliable and are rejected. Experiments should be repeatable, since the initial researchers repeat their own trials to make sure of that and then others are invited to join in if the doubt the validity of the findings.

So, Modernism and Postmodernism are not worth studying except as indications of how flawed our thinking is. Sure enthusiasm for science exploded in the nineteenth century, and you can see some of the rubble from that explosion in the form of bogus medical devices, strange scientific beliefs held by citizens, etc. But was that a philosophy? Who declares that something is a philosophy? (I certainly hope it isn’t philosophers—and I am a philosophy buff, as you know.) Since all measurements contain measurement error and we hope no mistakes, at least the possibility of fact checking exists. Subjects like philosophy do not have a final arbiter, like the natural sciences do in nature itself, and well Bill Clinton said it best “Mistakes were made.”

March 17, 2023

What the Heck is Scientism?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:59 am
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I am a scientist (and a student of philosophy to boot) and I had never heard the term “scientism” until quite recently. What the heck is it? By implication it seemed to be a term used by theists of the same ilk as those who referred to those who accepted the theory of evolution as “evolutionists.” It was at least mildly disparaging and carried the implication of, “you scientists don’t know all that much.”

So, off the ‘Net I went and gathered some quotes:

The term scientism was popularized by F.A. Hayek, who defined it as the “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science.” Karl Popper defines scientism as “the aping of what is widely mistaken for the method of science”.

Both Bacon and Descartes elevated the use of reason and logic by denigrating other human faculties such as creativity, memory, and imagination.

The 19th century witnessed the most powerful and enduring formulation of scientism, a system called positivism. Its founder was August Comte, who built his positive philosophy from a deep commitment to David Hume’s empiricism and skepticism. Comte claimed that the only valid data is acquired through the senses.

But the core of the resurgence of this obscure philosophical term showed up finally in this quote:

Scientism today is alive and well, as evidenced by the statements of our celebrity scientists:

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” –Stephen Weinberg, The First Three Minutes

“We can be proud as a species because, having discovered that we are alone, we owe the gods very little.” –E.O. Wilson, Consilience

While these men are certainly entitled to their personal opinions and the freedom to express them, the fact that they make such bold claims in their popular science literature blurs the line between solid, evidence-based science, and rampant philosophical speculation.

Whether one agrees with the sentiments of these scientists or not, the result of these public pronouncements has served to alienate a large segment of American society. And that is a serious problem, since scientific research relies heavily upon public support for its funding, and environmental policy is shaped by lawmakers who listen to their constituents. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it would be wise to try a different approach.

Ahah! Consider “the result of these public pronouncements has served to alienate a large segment of American society.” Since when has a large segment of American society paid any attention to science or the philosophy of science and what causes the alienation? Is it the arrogance of scientists like Carl Sagan?

I suggest that you need look no further than religious apologists. They contend that science is at war with religion because science keeps showing how wrong many religious “understandings” are.

And the eighteenth century in “philosophical matters” in the West was dominated by a gigantic battle between deism and traditional religion. Many deists (not all) claimed that nature was “god” and to show piety was to learn as much about nature as possible. This is supportable even in traditional religion who believed that their supernatural entity created all of nature and so to study “god’s creation” was to get somewhat closer to god, even to traditionalists.

So, this somewhat obscure philosophical term has been resurrected by those wishing to keep science at bay, to keep science from running amuck, to keep science from intruding on the theist’s bailiwick.

Scientism is not a term invented by scientists. It was invented by philosophers actually wanting to overthrow the tyranny of traditional religion.

A side effect of this battle was the creation of the Great Experiment in Democracy, the United States. (More on this later.)

Postscript The Sagan quote “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” basically follows from the definition of universe: “The universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy.” (Source: Wikipedia) I do not think this shows an overweening “faith” in science or its methods. It is simply how we defined things. So Sagan may have sounded arrogant but this hardly “blurs the line between solid, evidence-based science, and rampant philosophical speculation.”

Jump That Shark and Ride

Filed under: Philosophy,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
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In Mark Manson’s Medium post “How to Wage Philosophical War” that was the source of my quotes in my previous post, Jump on that Pony and Ride!, the author went on to state:

Modernists believe that truth exists and, therefore, power merely is a question of what is most factually accurate. Modernists believe in evidence over feelings. They see history as a series of struggles that bring humanity closer to truth.

Postmodernists believe that truth is subjective, that facts are socially constructed and arbitrary, and, therefore, power is a question of which group has the biggest gun or loudest bullhorn.

Postmodernists believe that people’s feelings matter more than evidence — as evidence is always corrupted by the individual narratives that present it. As a result, postmodernists see history as a constant struggle between various groups and their narratives.

Modernists believe in the sanctity of cultural traditions. Postmodernists see these traditions as evidence of oppression.

Modernists believe in protecting institutions. Postmodernists believe institutions merely serve the elites who run them.

Modernists believe in the accumulation of scientific knowledge. Postmodernists are skeptical of science, as numbers can be easily manipulated to fit groups’ narratives.

Now the author is fixating on Modernism and Postmodernism, but I find some of the above quite “iffy.” For example “Modernists believe in protecting institutions. Postmodernists believe institutions merely serve the elites who run them.” sounds more like a comparison between conservatives and liberal/progressives. Of course, the current crop of I-don’t-know-whats calling themselves “conservatives” don’t give a fig about institutions, like the postal service, the public schools, etc. only seeing them as sources of future profits for some corporation willing to give them “campaign donations.” But when I came of age, the statement clearly describes conservatives and liberals.

I am beginning to believe the concepts of “modernist” and “postmodernist” are about as useful as Internet Influencers, which is to say “not at all.”

March 15, 2023

Jump on that Pony and Ride!

You know I have a philosophical bent. So when I read the following quote, I definitely had a reaction:

Postmodernism, on the other hand, believes that certainty is impossible. No matter how many times you observe something, you can never know if it’s entirely true, mostly because the observer is always fallible.
Postmodernism arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to a number of havoc-wreaking discoveries in the hard sciences.
• Einstein’s relativity showed that, in fact, gravity is not always gravity.
• Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem showed that mathematical systems are self-contradictory.
• Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle showed that it’s theoretically impossible to measure anything with complete accuracy.

My reaction: philosophers are like children who finally twig to the fact that Santa Claus isn’t real. Yet the philosophers, unlike the children, do not seek a new equilibrium, they double down insisting that Santa Claus is real.

The statement “No matter how many times you observe something, you can never know if it’s entirely true, mostly because the observer is always fallible” shows a complete lack of understanding of what it means to observe or measure something.

I am a scientist. I taught measurement science back in my day and I often started out addressing the simple fact that all measurements contain uncertainty. Uncertainty is not mistakes and not due to human fallibility. It is and always has been part of the universe.

The example I used was I asked my students to estimate the length of a lab table (it was about 6 meters). So, various students would take a whack at “eyeballing” the length of the table. I then held up a wooden meter stick and said, that estimate wasn’t good enough, what if we were to use this (meaning the stick). So, I got a student to slap the stick down a number of times and she would come up with a better estimate. But multiple uses of a wooden stick makes for a difficult process, leaving us still with uncertainty, albeit less than before. So, I held up a metal tape measure and asked “How about this?” Again a student employed the tape measure and got a better value, but there was still some uncertainty. Then I said that we could go over to the physics department and borrow a laser interferometer, which would enable us to make length measurements to a fraction of a wavelength of light. Would that then tell us how long the table was? Of course, they bit on that.

But there was still a fly in our ointment. How do we know that the two ends of the stone countertop were exactly parallel? Odds were that they weren’t and the length of the table would differ depending on where we took the measurement. (Careful, now Ruis, the natives are getting restless.) But if we took multiple measurements across the length of the table with the interferometer and got the same number each time, wouldn’t that prove the ends were parallel and give us an exact length of the table? The students were starting to issue sighs of relief. (If I was feeling at all sadistic, I could state that the ends of the table were parallel at the top buy each end surface was slanted to the vertical. Bwah, hah, hah!)

But, no, it is not to be. I slapped a photo of the surface of the end of the table, under very high magnification, showing the end of the table wasn’t all that smooth and under high magnification it looked like a range of mountains. Then, I said, we would be faced with the problem of where does the table start (at one of those peaks, or one of those valleys, or the average of the highest peak and the lowest valley) and where does it end.

My point was that perfect measures are not going to be made. All measurements come with some degree of uncertainty, and that extends to all of science, based as it is on measurements—there are no absolutes in science/nature.

Philosophers, however, are wedded to absolutes. They throw around concepts like “perfect,” “certainty,” “perfect accuracy,” and “truth,” none of which exist in nature. And I wish that we would go back to labeling things like physics and chemistry and biology as natural sciences, because so many other fields, e.g. politics and economics, are adopting scientific methods to add credibility to their studies (it won’t by the way). Maybe we could call those others unnatural sciences.

The author of the quotes above goes on to say “To put it succinctly, modernism is the assertion that truth can be known definitively. Postmodernism is the assertion that truth can never be known definitively; it can only be guessed at and approximated, at best.” To put it succinctly, both of these are quite wrong. The postmodernism definition comes closer to the “truth,” but errs in using the word truth. “Truth can never be known definitively” is just another way to state that the concept is wrong. What we need to focus upon is reliability, not truth. Can we rely on the Sun coming up tomorrow? Yes, I think we can. Then that is reliable, but it is hardly “true” as most people think of it.

March 14, 2023

Pantheism, Why?

I am reading a wonderful book on the religious stances of the founders of the US. In that book it is claimed that many, probably most, of the key players in the American Revolution were deists, which should be shocking because to those in mainstream religion, that is almost all other Americans, considered deism a form of atheism, which was a punishable crime in many places in the Colonies.

The deism most popular at the time would probably called pantheism today.

pantheism (noun) the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The book’s title by the way, is “Nature’s God, The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.”

This post is about pantheism (I will report on the book later). I can’t help but wonder why anyone would even bother. It seems that nature has already been labeled and calling it “god” doesn’t change anything. At first I was supposing this equation was because people were brought up with a concept of a god or gods and they just could see the universe without a god in it (or of it) somewhere.

Then I thought that this could be a form of weapon used against traditional religion. There are some advantages. The Abrahamic gods were claimed to be omnipresent, which makes no sense as I have written before. (A god which is omnipotent and omniscient need not be anywhere anywhen to observe or act. It already has seen and heard all there is to see and hear and can act from anywhere.) But if nature is your god, you can make a good argument for omnipresence, because it just is. No matter where you go, there you are, as the saying goes. Omnipresence is a brute fact of pantheism.

The book’s author, however, makes another argument, which seems plausible. He states “Radical philosophy really begins with the intuition that the great problem with the common religious consciousness is not that it thinks so highly of God but that it thinks so little of nature.”

Clearly we are completely dependent upon nature. Were major natural systems to collapse, whether any of us could survive is a real question. The Judeo-Christian religion gives nature to us as “something inherently inert, passive, mechanical, and therefore unable to give life meaning, and it congeals its nihilism in the hallucination of an otherworldly God.” We are told to go forth and multiply and nature is there to do with as we choose. And our exploitation of nature’s “resources” is unbridled and, we now see, doing real damage to our ability to survive.

Were we to consider nature to be god and therefore sacred, would we treat it differently? Possibly the Native Americans have shown us that we would have, as they did.

I am uncomfortable with this as it seems a form of self-delusion—“Hey, guys, I have an idea, let’s pretend nature is God!”

As you can see I see pantheism as an unnecessary complication, but it may be a useful interim weapon to use against traditional religion’s rape of nature. Obviously if we do not survive any fine points in this argument are moot.

What do you think? Are you a pantheist? (How about you, John?)

March 7, 2023

The Mystery of Consciousness

Human beings have been debating the concept of consciousness since there have been debates. So, how far have we come? Initially, the first few thousand years or so, speculation dominated. Lately we have developed tools which can address the problem from the other end; brain scanners and the like are allowing us to get actual data as to how the brain works, which may lead to an understanding of how consciousness works.

I am not competent to follow the leading edge of consciousness research (which is still highly speculative) but it seems to me the pathway to it is not entirely unclear.

I think the first step toward consciousness is the development of memory. The core of the value of this faculty is summed up in George Santayana’s aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Any animal which cannot remember that that other animal over there is a predator or eating that fruit will cause sure death, is less likely to survive and breed than those that do. Research shows that many animals possess the ability to remember, down to microscopic level animals, so its utility I think can be assumed.

Once memories are available, then I think imagination becomes a next step. For this purpose I equate imaginings as the creation of synthetic/fictional/hypothetical memories. Having this capacity allows us to game plan for threats. We know that the human brain spends a great deal of its energy in threat assessment. We look around and instead of having to go through any process of threat assessment, our brains do it for us, not always all that well, but safety first is our watchword. I and others have mentioned the development of agency through the predator in the tall grass scenario, which goes we are surveying our surroundings and there is disturbance in the tall grass nearby. Is that a predator swishing its tail, which is stalking us, or was that caused by a zephyr of wind? Our imaginations allow us to “picture,” that is create a false memory of, what happens if (a) we think it is a predator and it is not and (b) we don’t think it is a predator and it is. Each of those scenarios can be extended with possible solutions: (i) we move away and (ii) we do nothing. Even if we are wrong about it being a predator, moving away is the most prudent path. Obviously combinations of (b) and (ii) do not end well for us.

So, once we have caches of actual memories and synthetic/fictional/hypothetical memories some system of organization/categorization/ability to recall of those memories would benefit us. A memory that we died by predator, which we imagined, could cause problems if we thought it really happened. And since false memories are unreliable (being based upon what?) we definitely need to distinguish those from real memories. What developed is what I believe most people refer to as “mind.” Once the thing began, it grew like Topsy, because it was flexible and was applicable to many tasks.

Then, because we are a social species, our social nature taught us that as individuals we were quite limited but in groups we were much more capable. As our ability to communicate increased, prodded by learning to hunt and gather in groups, the ability to communicate and think collectively, which we call consciousness, developed. Our “minds” kept running in the background, and I think we refer to that as a “subconscious” mentality, our ability to focus on specific thoughts and develop them with others became what we call our consciousness mentality or our conscious mind.

Again, this is just more speculation, but at least it is testable. There are other social species. We can test other species for their ability to memorize and recall. So, this might be a framework that could help us organize out thoughts about consciousness.

Since I can’t imagine that I am the first person to come up with this, I assume others have already and those of you more steeped in the topic can comment on that.

A Concluding Scenario
Imagine a stone age man knapping stones to make tools. A boy comes nearby and watches him work, several days in a row. Finally the man gestures to the boy to come closer (coming closer without invitation invites a cuff of the head) and the man grunts, shows the boy how he is holding the knapping tool and how he is striking the piece of rock he is shaping.

Later the man finds the boy trying the task on his own, woefully poorly of course. So the man cuffs the boy on the back of the head and shows him that the rock he chose to work on was not a shapeable rock, a piece of flint, chert, obsidian, or other conchoidal fracturing stone. So, he gets him working on a shapeable stone and walks away.

Think about this process. Learning to shape stone tools would be of no value if one could not remember the process. One would have to reinvent the process anew each time a stone tool was desired. Once the process could be memorized, then it could evolve through brute experimentation or imagining other possible process steps. And evolution would require mind to organize the steps, possible new steps, steps that worked and steps that did not. And, then socially, the whole family group or tribe would benefit if those techniques could be shared/taught to others.

All of this could happen before the development of language, but each collaborative process pushes the development of language, which would be enhanced by the development of language. Hunting would be more efficient with better communication, teaching would be enhanced by the ability to ask questions and answer them, etc.

It seems as if the chain undergoes positive reinforcement every step of the way.

January 30, 2023

Philosophical Confusions

Note I was tempted to write a “Confusions say . . .” joke but I did not. S

I ran across a quote from one of my favorite books (from my past, I hardly remember it now, many thousands of books later). Here it is:

Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”

This statement was in support of the cultivation of a beginner’s mind and I think it is, in fact, a turning away from enlightenment rather than a turning toward it. Allow me to explain.

Anyone who has spent serious time with the very young has experienced their massive creativity. They see animals in clouds, they see imaginary friends/animals, etc. And having “beginner’s minds” they distract themselves repeatedly: “Look a horsey!” “Can I have a cookie?” “They are trying to steal my toys!”

Yes, those with beginner’s minds see a great many “possibilities” but most are off task and distractions rather than being helpful. A similar miscomprehension notes how children seem to learn faster/more. Even if they do, and I doubt it, they are learning to tie their shoes and turn off the lights when leaving a room, not more complicated tasks.

Experts face another set of problems entire. Possessing a great deal of knowledge, experts also see a great many possibilities, most of which are on task, and because of their experience, they usually gravitate to a train of thinking that is likely to be successful, giving the appearance that they see only a few possibilities. I used to teach my students that they will recognize their own mastery of topics when they gravitate to lines of thinking that result in correct answers (and this requires practice, practice, practice, the same that is required to reach Carnegie Hall).

A recent study of recall addressed why it appeared that old people took longer to recall things than young people. The researchers could think of no physical reason why this might be so. So they did a study and their only conclusion was that in all likelihood, old people took longer to recall facts because they had much larger stores of facts in long-term memory to sift through. This is like the expert’s minds seeing “fewer possibilities” miscomprehension, which is a false conclusion based upon a natural tendency to gravitate toward things that will work.

Turning back to my point that cultivating a mind like a beginner is not a step forward but a step back. Beginners are gullible, beginners are less discerning, etc. This is why religions target the young for their proselytizing. We should instead be studying how this “inclination to pursue lines of thought that will be successful” works.

The trap for experts has always been that that tendency can block off more novel approaches to problems. The well used channels of thoughts become ruts that are nor easily escaped. This is why Einstein extolled being able to think as a child would, with wonder and awe, but he was not recommending a steady diet of such thinking.

All of these may be moot points as our society seems to be turning away from experts and returning to a simpler societal “beginner’s mind,” more easily gulled by those who desire to manipulate us.

Note For those of you confused by the reference to Carnegie Hall, it comes from an old joke. It goes like this: Someone asked a cabbie “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the cabbie pondered a bit and replied “Practice, practice, practice.”

January 12, 2023

A Complete Misunderstanding of Religion

In a post on Medium.com, an author who calls himself “B,” stated the following:

Religion Viewed from a purely rational (mental) perspective religion makes no sense. In fact it is full of self-contradicting claims. This view however leads to a complete misunderstanding of religion, downplaying its role in human existence. Viewed through a Mythic lens though, it provides a moral compass and hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants.

The part I wish to address is the latter half, namely “This view however leads to a complete misunderstanding of religion, downplaying its role in human existence. Viewed through a Mythic lens though, it provides a moral compass and hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants.”

I have heard this argument numerous times before. And I will comment focused on Christianity as that is the religion I know the most about.

This “moral compass” referred to here has some aspect of truth to it in that religions address ethical issues as part of their regular programming. If that is considered against an alternative in which there were no discussion of ethical issues, it might be considered a positive thing. But if you look at the raising of children, we harp on ethical issues that have nothing to do with religion. Children are taught to share food and toys, clean up after themselves, and how to live “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning. Children are taught to not hit or bite other children or abuse pets, and much more, of course. This is done primarily by parents and by kindergarten and grade school teachers. Children are not threatened with Hellfire for their errors of judgment (actually some are and that is child abuse in my book), and none of the usual adult Christian “sticks” (of carrots and sticks fame) are employed either.

If one searches the Holy Bible for ethical/moral lessons one finds truly profound lessons and absolute horror stories (parents killing their own children to “honor” their god, fathers offering up his daughters to be raped by a crowd to protect “angels,” etc.). At best it is a moral wash. At worst it is a field manual for controlling populations by elites.

As to the latter half of my focus, “hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants” as an atheist I have never found life to be a dismal prospect. And complex? Who cares? When I need to travel by city trains, the system is incredibly complex. But I can consult the Internet which simplifies it for me and helps me navigate that system. There are many other complex systems embedded in a large modern city, like Chicago where I live, but I pay no heed to those that do not affect me now. So “incomprehensibly complex”? Taken as a whole, yes, broken down into manageable bits, no. Most people seem to navigate life’s complexities with some aplomb. And, yes, I know that a great many people live precarious lives, where life and death decisions get made daily. And their religions protect them how? Actually their religion may make them a target of spiritual warriors from other religions.

As to hope, uh, does he mean hope for a life unending? That promise is clearly a false hope. Ask yourself, if someone claims you can live forever, but then tells you that you need to die first, isn’t there a bit of a sniff of a scam? Especially when, after your death, you are not resurrected as an immortal being your “Earthly remains” are placed in the ground to rot. Of what help to anyone are false hopes? I consider them cruel and inhumane. And false hopes have real consequences. The promise, hope, of never-ending life, encourages people to devalue their lives as they know them, instead longing for the “hereafter.” Whether one lives forever, after dying, or not, wasting the life one has yearning for the afterlife is a major mistake, especially when the living conditions of the “afterlife” aren’t explicitly stated.

A “complete misunderstanding of religion”? I don’t think so. If religion provides ambiguous moral/ethical lessons, and false hopes, I can’t imagine finding better alternatives cannot easily be found. For example, if we were to invest as much energy in studying philosophy as we invest in our religions, we would be much better off.

January 5, 2023

Must It Be One or the Other?

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 10:23 am
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In the philosophical debate about the existence of free will or its opposite: absolute determinism, it seems as if the world must be all of one or the other, that they both cannot exist. But my thinking along these lines (My Main Conclusion: It is premature to take a position as we are just now starting to acquire data that might help answer the question.) is leading me to think that both may exist.

My metaphor is swimming in a river, you can float along with the current or you can swim up-stream against the current. So, sometimes, physical factors are all that are needed to determine how I might or do act as my actions are determined by physical causes. Other times, I am invested in some outcome that I wish strongly to create, that is in the opposite direction from what the physical causes might lead and I overcome the local deterministic factors and “exercise my will.”

Currently, determinists are free to make up causes that might exist to explain actions and freewillers are free to make up “wills,” whatever those are. In order to examine this possibility in the freewill debate we would have to be able to isolate the actual causes of events and see whether actions that are not determined can take place. I do not see such a capability in existence, yet, but. . . .

What do you think?

January 1, 2023

The Big Three (Questions)

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm
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Well, it is Sunday, so . . .

In a recent post Bryan Keith Dalton referred to the big three questions his childhood religion focused upon, namely: 1. Where did we come from?, 2. Why are we here?, and 3. Where are we headed?

I can’t imagine any ordinary person coming up with these questions as they are either unanswerable or nonsensical. But . . . allow me to comment upon each of them.

Where did we come from? I assume “we” here refers to the human race and not to just an individual or small group of individuals, because this is asked for an entire religion, which turns out is universalist in nature. My answer is “Who cares?” How would this knowledge affect us in one way or an other? I acknowledge that I have a family history that stretches back to Revolutionary War times (on my mother’s side), but I am singularly uninterested in that history, and on the off occasions when I do dabble, it is only because of idle curiosity.

I tend to think this is a loaded question, designed to prepare the listener for some cockamamie creation story, because it is so irrelevant to living our lives otherwise.

Where are we headed? I skipped ahead to #3 here because it is much like #1, that is “Who cares?” as a best answer. Since we are currently locked down to this planet and this planet will be circling the Sun for millions of years to comes, the only answer that makes any sense is “Going around in circles, so not going anywhere.” Again, a question designed to prime the listener to some ridiculous claim of some great destiny for the human race. Poppycock.

Why are we here? This question, like the other two, is designed to prepare the listener for something, this being less benign than the other two. This is the “purpose” question and as I have written before, anyone who claims they know the purpose of your life is a con man, so grab your purse or wallet and back away from the questioner.

Anyone claiming that your life has a purpose is also claiming that that purpose was formed by someone or something else. This is a form of control in the extreme (only slaves allow others to impress purposes upon them). People who have been fed a load of crap about them having a great purpose or destiny are being programmed to act out that prescription. This assertion feeds our desire to feel “special” to others, and for some people the more the merrier. I personally am “special” to my life partner, maybe my child, and my other close relatives, and just maybe a few colleagues. That’s it. I have no great ambitions to become special to a larger group of people and the people I observe who are (politicians, gurus, religionists, etc.) are at best needy.

So, the Big Three Questions are clearly “deepities” in that they sound profound, but are more than mundane and worse, contain hidden agendas.

TL/DR Version
1. Where did we come from? Answer: Who cares?

2. Why are we here? Answer: Only slaves allow others to impress purposes on them.

3. Where are we headed? Answer: Who cares? Probably around in circles (one per day, and one bigger one per year).

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