This post is a response to “Loose Ends”
I originally wrote a several page response to your last post, where I went through your points one by one and developed either an agreement or a counter argument. Then, I realized that I was bullshitting you and myself. Thus I erased everything and started from scratch.
In the end I think that we are more or less on the same page, but disagree on some specific issues, which ironically (I think we both are agree) are not terribly important for developing a successful active philosophy.
In addition, I believe that this disagreement is important. Not important because one of us is correct, but important because it speaks to aspirations of the human spirit. Our ability to agree to disagree is essential to creating a dynamic, culturally-rich human condition. It is impossible to expect everyone to have the same thoughts. Furthermore this would lead to a very lack-luster world. Ralph Waldo Emerson (I think it was him, I am having trouble finding a reliable source) once posited that, “If two people agree on everything, than one of them is unnecessary.”
We have both made a strong case for each of our viewpoints, but I feel as though we have wandered away from the original intent of creating an active philosophy. We want to promote a new way of thinking that props up humanity’s greatest achievements and belittles its worst atrocities. I think that you and I have been having a legitimate philosophical conversation that ought be hashed out over many future blunt sessions, but upon reviewing this entire debate, I realized that we have departed from a practical approach to philosophy, which is what I thought we set out to do. Thus this post will be centered around summing up the key points of our debate (from my perspective).
On one hand it is great to look to previous philosophers for inspiration and guidance, but the reality is that even fairly educated people like me have no idea who Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Leibniz, etc are, much less what there philosophies were. We have to develop a message that is powerful yet accessible to people who don’t spend so much time thinking about the extremely deep and complex subject of existence. I looked back at our debate, and realized that a lot of what we said was very abstract and extremely difficult to comprehend or deduce the best course of action from. I was extremely confused by many of our comments, arguments, and explanations, thus I had to spell it out in bullet points so that I could start to understand what the fuck we were actually talking about.
Thus to tie up the “loose ends” of the debate I want to put for a list of conclusions from the conversation (please edit and/or post your concluding points of what we have determined in our discussion). This by no means is supposed to be a complete list.
Things a successful active philosophy must include:
-Tolerance. This I think is a key component to developing an viable active philosophy. It means that we embrace our differences, praise our individuality, and honor our commonality as humans.
-Compromise. No one is correct, but everyone is correct. Everyone is entitled to believe in a certain thing or a way of life. However, since nothing can be known in an absolute sense it is essential that we acknowledge that no one is capable of achieving the ‘true answer,’ but we can certainly seek personal truths.
-All encompassing. There is no one aspect of the human dynamic that is better or more important than another. Whether you choose to be deeply religious or overly analytic, you are still a human. Our existence cannot be described in one (set of) idea(s) or actions; it is truly composed of an infinite parameter space in which all components play a part. It must speak to the needs and wants of a child in Vietnam and challenge the thoughts of the emeritus professor at Stanford University.
-Critical Thinking. The only thing that really matters about a way of life or a way of thinking is that you think about it. Regardless of the conclusions one makes about whatever subject, we must always be willing to criticize our own beliefs and actions. We cannot get stuck in ruts of ‘thinking a certain way’ and be willing to change both ourselves and the world we live in.
-Elasticity. Nothing in it should be an absolute. Things change and we as individuals and social animals must be willing to change with it. What is true today, may not be true tomorrow. What is good for me is not necessarily good for you.
The case for science:
“Wish in one hand and shit in the other. See which one gets filled first.” -Dad from Grumpier Old Men
The reason that we must develop science as a culture is that it is the mechanism that will solve many of our problems we have as a collection of people. What’s good about it, is not simply ‘that it works,’ but actually solves problems. We can not just sit on our asses waiting for god to solve global warming and cure aids. We have to get our ass in the lab and figure it out, because in reality our hands are going to be filled with shit before god sends angels in to cure aids. In a practical sense we control our own destiny and it is up to us to face up to the problems that have plagued humanity from the beginning and those that we have created for ourselves.
-Being Closer is Better (sometimes). The reason science is so powerful is not because it allows us to probe the secrets of the universe (god), but rather that it allows us to utilize nature that is given to us. See the five examples below:
1) The sun may not truly be a nuclear reactor emitting photons, but if we model it as such we can develop solar technology that will reduce greenhouse emissions.
2) Viruses may not truly be little bugs that seek to infect their host, but if we model them as such then we can determine ways of decreasing their spread.
3) Computers and the internet may not truly be anything but plastic and metal organized in a highly complex manner to process bits of data, but using them to connect the world and foster ideas is an amazing way to promote progressive thinking.
4) Evolution may not be exactly correct (or even correct at all), but it gives us tremendous insight into our past and offers a starting place for understanding ourselves and the vast nature we live in.
5) Gravity may not be truly be the warpage of space-time, but modeling it as such allows us to send a man to the moon and build levees that keep tides from flooding our coastal cities.
-It is an expression of the human spirit. You will often hear scientist say something like, “wire bonding is an art.” (Wire bonding is a way making electrical connections that are on the scale of micrometers using a highly complex machine). It speaks to our ingenuity and intelligence. It is a way that we can express both our creativity and our ability to think logically.
-It offers us a sense of certainty in a world of doubt. Although we may never know the true answer, is comforting to know that we have been able explain/model things on a basic level. Why don’t we just fly off into space? Why is the sky blue? What the fuck is water?
The case against science:
-Science is limited. It is commonly perceived as something that is capable of solving all of our problems. This is not the case.
-Experimental science is limited by technology and sheer scope and difficulty. i.e. there is a limit to how small/big/energetic of things we can probe.
-Complex systems (such as consciousness) cannot be reduced to several basic assumptions that are capable of predicting everything. Much of existence is fundamentally impossible to understand or know exactly and we must recognize this limitation.
-It’s a double edge sword. It is great that we have learned to model so much of the natural world to a high degree of accuracy, but the same methods that uncovered the structure of atoms and how matter can be converted into energy have lead to extremely destructive forces like nuclear bombs, programmable killing drones, and deadly viruses. We must be very careful with what we use it for and how we use it.
-The vast majority of science is done by (rich) white males. Despite the fact that science is designed to be independent of the user, it is a harsh reality that it takes money and time, which only a small portion of the world has. Fortunately, this gets better everyday, but it really is a problem when the vast majority of its contributions come from a single demographic. This also leads to a false sense of superiority, which can be used as justification for atrocious acts against humanity (imperialism).
The case for religion:
The reason we have developed religion as a culture is that is speaks to the inherent mystery and doubt of being alive. We can pretend to know a lot, but our finite existence on earth is never going to understand the complexity of the universe/existence. We can develop a concept of god to reconcile the fact that we are nothing but blobs of matter moving around on some rock in space with the fact that we experience joy/pain beauty/ugliness on a daily basis. Furthermore we develop gods as models of humanity that allows to aspire to better ourselves and change the world in a positive way.
-It offers us hope. When we are in our darkest of hours or at pinnacle of our loneliness, who else do we have to turn to but god?
-Life on earth is special. Even from a scientific stand point our existence is truly special and honoring this through prayer and ritual allows us to conquer our deepest fears and realize our wildest dreams.
-It respects the mystery of life. Although it won’t give us an equation that can solve our life, it allows us to make sense of the infinitely complex world we live in. We can both be satisfied with what we achieve, but be humbled by what we cannot control.
-Each person is unique. We are god’s children and that makes us special (so long as we do not exclude others). This is not so say that humans are uniquely special (compared to say dogs), but it gives an absolute perspective through which to view our impossible-to-comprehend existence and allows us to develop as individuals.
-Often times it teaches good values. Many of the teachings of prophets and scripture are an invaluable set of values that have stood/will stand the test of time. For example, I believe that the authors of the bible where trying to create the model of the perfect human with their descriptions of Jesus. We can learn from these values and form a good model of what a good human should and could be. Although basic ideas like “Thou shalt not kill,” are basic proxies that we innately understand as humans it helps to have it stated outright when we let our daemons get the best of us.
The case against religion:
-It’s an institution. For most religion has become “a way to get to heaven” that distorts our purpose here on earth: to live. We are given a chance to contribute to this thing called life and continue the process that has brought us to what we are today. We must honor our finite chance to live on this earth. A wise man once sang, “I don’t give a fuck, one lifetime is enough.”
-Scripture can’t possibly be the word of god. We must recognize that the sheer fact that holy scripture is written on paper means that it must have been a creation of human thought. Although scripture may model what humanity could and should be, a literal interpretation is extremely dangerous: “jihad,” “God hates fags,” “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,” “Islam should/will dominate the world,” “You are going to hell for you sins.”
-Supernatural events and myths may be instructional, but a view of them as truth may convince us that we do not need to solve our own problems. We can’t wait for god to do it. We control our own destiny more than we would like to admit. For us to pretend that a man in the sky will swoop down and end suffering is short-sighted. We need pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and carry ourselves to glory.
-It makes us fear death. I have always said, “the number one cause of death is life.” Dying is part of living. Nonbeing is part of being. Although life is amazing and we should cherish all that it has to offer, we must understand that death is an intrinsic part of it. When we live our lives, we fit into a greater construct and then we pass on, leaving what we have learned behind. What we chose to leave behind is our own choice not something that needs to be decided by some asshole bouncer named Peter at the pearly gates. Besides who needs needs pearly gates and streets of gold when they die? What is better is that you decide where you go when you die… not some book or some preacher. Again you are in control.
I hope that you can add to these lists in a meaningful way. I just felt that our whole conversation had been distorted into some weird debate over some stupid movie called Religulous. Although we had a lot of meaningful things to say, much of what I (and maybe we) had to say was some bullshit that made me feel smart at the time I was typing it.
I was starting to get into some infinite loop of thought that was going nowhere. I am glad I took a step back and regrouped my thoughts.
I have a lot more to say on institutions how they work, how and why we an endow them with power, and how they can be used to improve the human condition, but I didn’t think that this post was the place for them.
This blog is a continuation of the (ongoing) debate in the posts:
On Science Religion, and Nationalism
On Science, Religion, and Nationalism II
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I think that the good things are a question of potential and the bad things are a matter of execution. So you have created a list of things that we can actually change (serenity prayer).
One more thing I would add to (organized) religion, which inspired your posts and which I added we shouldn’t fall into ourselves – it encourages dualistic thinking!
Our job is to move on to a society that can contain/express many perspectives instead of casually acknowledging them.
I said: “I think that the good things are a question of potential and the bad things are a matter of execution. So you have created a list of things that we can actually change (serenity prayer).”
The good things are a matter of “execution” as well and the bad things of course come from the “potential” to give rise to unsavory tendencies.
It is a matter of what expresses the potential in line with our human dynamic (At their core religion and science appeal to our foundations incredibly well and are a good place to start, which is interesting because we claimed aliens would conduct science and religion the same as us…) and what takes advantages of our passive weaknesses and tendency to accept. But this still leads to things that we can change by actively confronting – making a case for thinking things through.
The next thought makes me realize that we need to study some psychology to make active philosophy more useful to our current situation:
Of course to live is the goal but as a thinking things that means that thinking is too!
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This is fabulous, for its clear format as well as its content. I was especially taken with the sentence, “We have to develop a message that is powerful yet accessible to people who don’t spend so much time thinking about the extremely deep and complex subject of existence.” This is essentially the same issue that I’ve been wondering about lately, which is: is it even theoretically possible to make the good results of deep introspection and mindfulness, transferable to people who lack the time and/or interest and/or ability to do it for themselves, and yet prevent the attachment of extraneous nonsense to it? I want to think that it is, and yet I’m feeling that inevitably the answer is going to be no. But, I also think you are on to something here. Keep up the good work!
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Great Thanks for coming! Always feel free to share your thoughts!
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