Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Apologetics of Pantheism

To any readers that I may still have: I apologize that it has been so long since I have posted. Those of you who are familiar with this blog know that it is more or less a thought-journal. These posts are not rigorous, though they are often technical. This does not mean that the thoughts themselves are not rigorous. Rather, it means that I expect the reader to do some of the work in reaching the same conclusions I do. Anyhow, the informal nature of this blog should suggest that it is something of an experimental test-grounds. My notions are often controversial, and I like to use this space to lay them out in fuller detail than I normally would in conversation. In short, one simply cannot remember everything, so one must begin to write.

The long hiatus is not because I have run out of ideas. Far from it. Rather, I have been spending my time researching and branching out into other fields. Now that I am no longer pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, I have discovered that my interests are quite broad: it is these interests which I am now developing. I am also developing my thoughts on them. When I have developed my thoughts on these subjects, I will post about them.

This post is the first in a series of posts which seek to explain to a reader what a consistent pantheistic spiritual position would look like. In my philosophico-spiritual journey, I have arrived at a zen-influenced pantheism underpinned by Wittgenstein, Collingwood, and a broad notion of fictionalism (or "virtualism" as some call it). The series includes five posts whose subjects will be as follows:

1. Rational Support and Apologetics
2. Theology
3. Creation Story
4. Prayer and Ritual
5. Ethics

1. Rational Support and Apologetics

Why am I a Pantheist? To answer this question is to answer two questions embedded into a single one: Why am I a theist? and Why do I believe that God is everything?

1.1 Medieval Proofs of God's Existence

I am a theist not because I find myself compelled by any proof of God that I have ever seen. I find these proofs to be uncompelling because they all make critical assumptions of the nature of the world. The famous five proofs of Aquinas all make the Prime Mover Assumption. The Prime Mover Assumption is the the assumption that large-scale events which we imagine via metaphor to be congruent to events typically caused by human action are, themselves, caused by some large-scale being similar to a human. So the appearance of design in the natural universe suggests a designer (the metaphor of human action); the infinite causal chain suggests a first causer (the metaphor of free-will); the apparent teleological nature of the world suggests a being driving it to its end; etc. These arguments all make the mistake of sharply defining the very entity for which they are searching. They also assume the small-scale notions (such as freedom) have large-scale doppelgangers. For these reasons, they are more like scientific experiments than proofs. They make some assumptions and then test human reason to discover whether these assumptions lead to a favorable test result (does God exist?). In short, these proofs are too narrow in scope and they ignore too much evidence.

The ontological proof, on the other hand, strikes me as entirely pathetic. There is no reason to think that humans have any such concept as "the being than which no greater can be thought." We might imagine a being and apply the label to it because we are hoping that such a concept really does exist. But it is obvious that it doesn't make sense: there is no objective standard by which to measure "greatness". And it is this word which effectively sneaks God into the proof. Whatever else God is, he is certainly great (says the theist), so it is his standard of greatness which informs our standard of greatness: circularity. Without God fixing his own standard of measurement, then we have no reason to think that the being imagined is God. Perhaps "greatest" is largest. We will have Sun-worshippers. Perhaps "greatest" is greediest. We will have divine dictators. Etc. Etc. If there exists any compelling proof, it is the inexplicability of the genesis of life and matter.

1.2 A Modern Proof?

While I have seen compelling arguments that the Big Bang did not, in fact, happen; the question is not as crucial as most think. If it did happen -- that is, if all matter and energy erupted into existence rather than maintaining eternal existence -- then either there is another being outside the universe which caused it or else the universe itself caused it. The simpler explanation is that the universe caused its own creation. This explanation is typically thought to be nonsensical because no being is known to cause its own creation. Creation is always creation by another. It is for this reason that creation by an external God is often adopted: we can allow God to be eternal and uncreated, thus avoiding the problem of a self-creator. Hence, if the Big Bang happened, we have two options: if we can accept the existence of a self-creator, then the universe caused its own existence; if we cannot, then we must posit an external being with which we have no direct contact (for we cannot escape the universe). Most theists go the second route, so they experience major problems in their efforts to define God. We have no direct access, so really we can only guess.

Suppose the Big Bang did not happen? Well we have another genesis to deal with: the genesis of life. This is equally unexplained because no random event has yet generated a strand of DNA, which all life forms (and even viruses) have. Nor have proteins been randomly generated. These critical molecules are basic building blocks of life which seem to have simply appeared in the universe without good explanation. Either (1) they created themselves, (2) the universe created them, or (3) a being external to the universe created them. But because DNA strands are part of the universe, (1) and (2) effectively collapse into a single alternative: (part of) the universe created (part of) itself. Typically, theists again choose the mystical, inaccessible alternative.

So if the Big Bang happened, the universe was either self-created or another being (possibly eternal) created it. If it did not happen, then the universe is eternal and uncreated. Even so, the existence of life demands explanation as much as the existence of the universe: Big Bang or not, we are still confronted with the notion of a creator.

1.3 Pantheism vs. the External God

The simplest explanation, then, is pantheism -- unless there cannot exist a self-creator. But if it can be demonstrated that there exists a self-creator within the universe, then it must not be impossible that the universe itself is a self-creator. If we have evidence that such a thing exists, then it must not be as logically impossible is many philosophers will have us believe.

Interestingly, there exists such a being. The first act of any conscious being its coming into consciousness. A human being fully becomes a human being (read: a child grows up) when it becomes aware of itself as a human being. This is the very act of self-creation. It is not an inevitable event during a human lifetime, because there are many persons who never emerge from childhood. It is an event that one chooses to enact. Nevertheless, it is not an absolute act of self-creation because it always occurs within the context of a community which contributes to the choice. So the community and the individual collaborate in the act of creating consciousness. Nothing else need be credited with causing consciousness because, as physicalists love to remind us, the physical world does not need consciousness in order to continue operating: physical causes seem to be quite sufficient to drive all the events in the universe. And yet we are conscious. While I believe this physicalist story to be an oversimplification, suffice it to say that there seem to be very few actions which are directly impacted by conscious activity: most of the time we are merely reacting based on prior conscious precedent. Consciousness, like life and matter before it, seems to have burst onto the scene without any particular reason. Yet, we have direct experience of its creation. As its creators, we know that we are the ones who choose to become conscious (this applies to anything about which we may become conscious: an eminent lifestyle change, a major breakthrough in self-knowledge, etc.).

In any case, this is a metaphor for the kind of self-creation I have in mind. The means by which an entity creates itself is specific to the kind of entity that it is. Consciousness thinks itself into existence. Matter and energy burst themselves into existence. Life organizes itself into existence. Each of these entities has a different modus operandi, and it is according to the modus that the entity acts -- even if the act is an act of self-creation. It is these metaphors which support my conclusion that self-creation is not a nonsensical notion.

Consequently, I am a theist because I find the evidence for some form of creation (be it matter, life, or consciousness) to be compelling. I am a pantheist because Occam's razor prevents me from adopting extravagant theologies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Manifesto of Free-Will

Manifesto of Free-Will
A Short Treatise

For those of you who have found ways to control and organize your lives, you probably remember what it was like before you had any driving motivations. You probably remember being told by your parents that you could be anything you wanted to be, but as a child you simply let culture tell you what you wanted to be. And this is perfectly normal, for all children must first learn what it means to have a dream before they can decide what their own dreams are to be. Most of my friends dreamed of being astronauts or rockstars, and I was no different. In fact, the mark of childhood is that psychical receptivity (and consequently also naivety) which provides children with the appropriate interpersonal context in which to learn rapidly. Children learn from each other and from adults far more than adults seem to learn from each other, and it is precisely because children are naturally more receptive. Of course, this also makes psychically children dependent upon each other, for without the benefit of a culture which provides for the child a set of possible dreams, children will simply not learn how to invent dreams on their own -- at least not as rapidly.

Nevertheless, we grew out of childhood and began to express ourselves as individuals rather than as children who follow the lead of others. We have made active decisions in all facets of our lives based on our personal motivations backed by human reason. We, as functional adults, have begun to make our own choices, for example: when to lead and when to follow, what to believe, which relationships to keep and how to keep them. These are all things that a functional adult has thought about and come to personal positions concerning. Let us say that an issue is epistemically undetermined if it is not hitherto proven by some standard method of epistemic assessment, such as direct empirical evidence, scientifically predictive accuracy, logic and mathematics. With this definition in mind, then, what it means for you to have an opinion is for you to have given an epistemically undetermined issue significant rational consideration, and for you to have come to a position concerning the issue based on this consideration. Opinions, then, are had by persons who actively cultivate critical thought.

So, you might ask, what sort of beliefs do children have if adults have opinions? Children have dogmas, for the means by which children acquire their beliefs is typically unreflective. Children who have no belief on an issue will simply accept a belief which is given to them until the belief begins to cause obvious trouble for the child. I can provide a good example of this from my own experience. When I was a child, I was raised a devout Catholic by my parents. We went to Mass every Sunday, and there were long periods in my life in during which we went every single day. I went to retreats with the church youth group and I attended to Catholic schools for about 11 years of my life (including my undergraduate career). If ever anyone was, I was raised dogmatically -- at least in regards to religion. This is evident in the fact that neither I nor any of my siblings ever came anywhere near considering being anything but Catholic during our childhood.

So how did I take to being Catholic? Well, my experience with other Catholics proves to me that the religion really works for many people. Catholics are not crazy, on the whole (though they sure can be), and the principles of Catholicism are certainly no necessary impediment to personal enlightenment. In fact, as a philosopher, I found it quite easy to defend the principles of my religion, because most of the difficult work had already been done years ago. Nevertheless, the rituals always got under my skin. And though I had heard the theological arguments about why Catholics go to Confession and why they believe in the Eucharist, it still just rubbed me the wrong way. And it still does -- more so than ever. In my most irreverant moments during the Masses I have attended recently with my family, it sometimes seems like the Mass is a slow moving carnival complete with costumes, events, incense, chants, food and drink. It's not that I dislike rituals out of principle, it's just that I prefer faster, more spontaneous rituals.

Of course this aesthetic preference is not the only reason that I have abandoned the faith of my childhood. I have also abandoned it because I have significant ideological problems with the guilt-based morality which is a central feature of Catholicism. You can imagine how reluctant I always was to go to Confession which represented, for me, a double discomfort: I found myself both aesthetically and ideologically repulsed. But as a an aspiring Good Catholic, I went to Confession anyway and simply wrote the discomfort off by telling myself that I was only uncomfortable because I had sinned too much.

So in my case, I was handed dogmas in a certain issue (my religion). These dogmas I promptly believed, because I had been given no other alternative regarding that issue. But when the dogmas caused obvious problems in my life, I had a choice: either I could continue to live in the misery that my dogmas were causing me or I could revise my beliefs and decide whether the dogmas should be retained. In actual fact, it was my decision to do the latter which I consider to be the moment that I chose to become and adult. And I expect that those of you who also take an active role in the formulation of all of your beliefs (regardless of the issue) have had some experience (maybe similar to mine) which you came out of with an awareness of what it meant to take control of your life.

Though I ended up relinquishing my faith, I did not relinquish it because Catholicism is universally bad. I do not believe this at all -- recall how much time I spent in defending it in my undergraduate career. It is easy to see why a person might be a Catholic, but there are other rational alternatives, and now that I know who I am, I know that I would never have thrived as a Catholic. In fact, this pluralism is a fundamental part of my personal philosophical System (a which has not been explored in much depth yet on this blog), so it is perhaps worth emphasizing that no value judgment can be made about a person's chosen position on any given epistemically undetermined issue, so long as that position is coherent. To put the matter another way, the history of philosophy suggests that we do not have access to the One True Theory, because we do not have enough evidence to whittle our set of candidates down to one. We have sets of theories in competition with each other, each of which is a candidate for the One True Theory, but none of which possesses a proof in any standard method of epistemic assessment.

One might respond to my argument for a rational pluralism by complaining that none of our candidate theories is even completely coherent yet. To this I respond that complete coherence is not a necessary feature for rational doxastic acceptance (viz. belief based on reason); rather, a Candidate One True Theory need only admit the potential for coherence (given sufficient thought) and be deemed the best of the alternatives. In fact, this objection misses the whole point of the argument. Because no Candidate One True Theory can be proven a priori, no Candidate One True Theory could ever be established as the Genuine One True Theory against its future competitors. Thus, we can only ever have Candidate One True Theories. What grants any Candidate Theory rational doxastic acceptance is, in fact, not even part of the theory -- it is in the agent. To be more precise, it is the doxastic acceptance which is the task of the agent. Rationality is what lies in the Candidate Theory proper, though even this rationality has a dependency on the community of theorists who work to determine the Candidate Theory's coherence. For a Candidate Theory's potential for complete coherence is measured by the work which has already been done to render that Theory coherent. There may, for example, be major logical problems in the Candidate Theory which have not yet been discovered by those researching it.

It is this meta-theoretical pluralism which underlies the human task of self-determination. If it were possible in principle for us to come to a Genuine One True Theory -- a perfect theoretical description of existence -- then self-determination would be an absurdity. If we had access to this Genuine One True Theory, then all persons would believe the same things because there would be no need for judgment in our act of learning: we would not need to think critically about what we believe. It appears that epistemic pluralism plays a major role in our experience of free-will.

Now before we consider free-will, I would like those of you who have found inner purpose, who have the ability to control their lives, to consider the poor soul who can not control his life. This is the poor soul who merely floats through life as a paraplegic on a raft in an unpredictable river. In one sense we find ourselves disgusted with such a generally lazy person, but in another sense we find ourselves pitying him. For indeed, we know how miserable a life without motivation and activity can be. I, myself, remember how debilitating and emotionally draining it could be to deal with the guilt that comes from accepting a Catholic Theory that did not fit my personality. What I want to point out about this poor confused fool is that he is entirely unfree. Whenever someone suggests that his actions are his own fault, he finds some external force which made it impossible for him not to be lazy. Such a lazy person is miserable, yet he sees himself as blameless in the face of that misery -- he does not even realize that he has caused his own misery by not growing out of childhood. This is not the only form of human determinism with which we are phenomenologically acquainted. The more familiar examples are children, the insane, and the mentally disable, and the drugged.

Aside from certain drug-induced states, this laziness is the only form of human determinism which is chosen. Thus, it is evident that the very first genuine choice which can ever be made -- if there are any genuine choices -- is the choice to choose. Or, less abstrusely, the choice to become an active and critical determiner of one's beliefs and desires. And what grounds this first genuine choice is the pluralism of rationally and doxastically acceptable Candidate Theories. As William James says, we may only genuinely choose a path which is a live option, i. e. one which we find aesthetically and ideologically appealing. So the means by which we determine which Candidate Theory to accept determines which Candidate Theories are live options. And these must be decided by factors which are wholly subjective. When I actively choose what style my clothes will be, there is no rule I follow in doing so, except the rule of self-expression. If I am an active determiner of my wardrobe (i. e. a free-willer), then my wardrobe is an act of self-expression, and it cannot be taken to mean anything more than this act of expression. Similarly, if I am an active determiner of my spiritual beliefs, then my spirituality itself is an act of self-expression. It is in this way that our beliefs are tied to our choices: belief is subject to choice, not determinate of it. This absolutely must be the case, because without access our Genuine One True Theory, there is a multitude of conflicting yet rational Theories which must be arbitrated -- and how else are we to arbitrate if we cannot rely on reason? And this intense subjectivity to which our beliefs are subjected is the beginning of a concept of free-will.

Passions are not the subject of choice (obviously). And, in fact, it is passions that lie at the root of desires. It is these various passions that must be organized by our beliefs. This organization produces desires, which are nothing more than passions which we allow ourselves to give in to based on the organization which our beliefs have given them. However, desires are not all organized. Unorganized desires have two possible causes: Either the belief system which organized the desires is itself unorganized (i. e. incoherent), or the belief system impedes self-expression and causes us to organize our passions in a manner which is not ideally self-expressive. My desires would be unorganized if I were to believe an ethical theory which entails contradiction, just as they would be unorganized if I were homosexual and accepted a religious ethics which suppresses the needs of a homosexual. In cases of unorganized desires, psychological complexes tend to occur (and I was once one of them). Our desires, then, are a result of the relationship between passions and the beliefs which organize them, and the desires will only express our will if we organize them with a coherent belief system which does not inherently impede self-expression (or expression of will).

I expect that the reader might object here that I have defined freedom into existence. While I agree that defining freedom into existence is a standard libertarian move, it is not the move I am making here. This source of subjectivity in our personalities might, itself be determined. Scientists might one day be able to predict exactly what my subjective leanings might be. They might be able to predict that I'd prefer philosophy rather than physics, women as lovers rather than men, creating music rather than pictures. They might be able to predict what sort of women I am attracted to and why. I will not deny biology, psychology or sociology their explanatory power. But the one thing that these three fields cannot explain about our subjective nature is when and why we choose to choose. It is only in this very first choice that we are genuinely free.

Human freedom amounts to nothing more than the ability to decide whether our actions will express our individual natures, determined though these natures might be. The only choice a person ever makes is the choice to become an adult or to remain a child.

But why should this choice be the only choice we make? Well this is because consciousness is dualistic in nature. All human persons have two minds. The first is the active and conscious mind which does all the thinking and is always present, here, now. This active mind is what feels the duration of time and the immediate sensory and emotional sensations. The second mind, however, is the subconscious mind. This passive mind is designed to follow the instructions it is given. It is the collection of habits and default actions that we resort to when our conscious mind is busy elsewhere. As children, we keep our conscious minds occupied on the task of finding material to input into the subconscious mind. But because the conscious mind does not know anything about itself or the world, it is not competent to decide what gets inputted into the unconscious mind. The conscious mind of a child is not adequate to the task of selecting which programs are inputted into its subconscious mind, and it knows that, so it trusts the words of other children and adults. In short, the conscious mind subjects itself to the culture and allows the subconscious mind to be filled with habits until the conscious becomes aware that it is competent to begin to make decisions. Because this subjugation of the conscious mind seems to be present in children from birth, it is reasonable to think that maturity amounts to a series of awakenings to self-consciousness: first the conscious mind becomes aware of the world; second, the conscious mind becomes aware of the subconscious mind and begins to learn about the world; third, the conscious mind becomes aware of other human beings and develops interpersonal relationships with them; fourth, the conscious mind becomes aware of itself. Though there are likely many other awakenings involved in human maturity, these are the only awakenings which are critical to this short treatise.

Human freedom occurs only when the conscious mind becomes aware of its own competence and supplants the prior dominance of the subconscious mind. The act of choosing to choose, then, is an exercize of the conscious mind's power, its authority, over the subconscious mind. As soon as this occurs, the reversal of psychical dominance is already complete, and the conscious mind now needs only to be vigilant that it does not accidentally accept an unexamined habit of the subconscious mind. Freedom is the exercizing of the conscious mind's power over the subconscious mind.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Comment on Capitalism

The capitalist system in America today amounts to little more than a concerted effort by all the institutions of Man to convince and eventually coerce us to waste as much of our money and time as they can in as lavish a manner possible. This is most prominently seen in the amount of time that we spend every day being advertised to. In a capitalist system like ours, the world not only doesn't care about you, it also repeatedly dupes and swindles you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

On the Conscious Regulation of Emotions

Collingwood on Emotions

R. G. Collingwood's phenomenology of human emotions begins with expression. The often involuntary gestures that I might make make when I experience strong emotions are expressions of my emotions to other people. If I express fear, for example, I may cause onlookers to become frightened simply because they see the fear in me. Though this expression is not necessarily intentional, it is still said to express the emotion because other people not only recognize the emotions I am expressing, they sympathize by expressing their own emotions. Collingwood calls this an emotional contagion: we experience emotions and spread them through the vehicle of expression. The contagion itself, Collingwood refers to as "sympathy," which seems to me an appropriate name. This simple psychical emotional contagion or sympathy can be seen most clearly in the actions of unorganized mobs: terror and riot.

Collingwood comments that animals seem to experience these same psychical emotions and that we sympathize with them because of it. Dogs, for example, chase cats because cats run. Dogs experience aggression in the face of fear, just as cats experience fear in the presence of a perceived strong force (such as a dog). In at least this way, we are akin to animals.

For Collingwood, psychical emotional expression - sympathy- is the ground upon which communication and language are built. But it does not stop there, at least for human beings. Collingwood observes that love, hatred, anger and shame are "conscious" emotions. Consciousness is a prerequisite for these emotions:

"Hatred is a feeling of antagonism; it is an attitude towards something which we regard as thwarting our own desires, or inflicting pain upon us, and this presupposes awareness of ourselves. Love is a feeling toward something with which we feel our own existence to be bound up, so that a benefit or injury to it is a benefit or injury to ourselves. Anger, though unlike hate it does not involve the idea of any particular thing or person that angers us, is like it in being a consciousness of ourselves as baulked or opposed. Shame is the consciousness of our own weakness or ineffectiveness" (The Principles of Art, 232).

Conscious Emotions and Animals

Though these forms of self-awareness are easily seen in human beings, I want to point out that my experience with domestic animals has demonstrated to me the presence of conscious emotions in animals. And I expect that other pet-owners have experienced the same conscious sympathy with animals. I would even be willing to conjecture that anyone who denies these conscious emotions of at least certain animals has probably had very limited experience with animal emotions.

1. Hatred
Dogs, for example, can tell when human beings do not like them or wish harm upon them. This makes the human a source of pain for the dog, and so the dog reacts with hatred. It is also how fighting dogs are trained.

2. Love
When either Sarah or I are sick, our cats will make sure to lay down next to us to comfort us. They want us to feel well because our well-being is bound up with their well-being: they love us.

3. Anger
There was a time when one of our cats, Alex, got into a fight with another cat. Alex had a rather nasty bite on his back and Sarah didn't want to let him outside because he would be likely to reopen the wound and infect it. Alex loves the outdoors, though he sleeps inside, so to have to go for days without going outside changed his mood entirely. He did not respond to any affection and would growl at us for trying to show it, though he never tried to hurt us. He meant no harm, but he did want us to know that things were not as they should be: he was angry at us.

4. Shame
Sarah and I often notice shame in older kittens who love to be daring about jumping, but do not yet have good balance. When they fall, they hide from us, because they know we saw them screw up.

5. Depression
Collingwood does not himself name this conscious emotion. Nevertheless, when we become conscious of a permanent loss in our lives or the absence of something loved, we become depressed. Because depression is parasitic upon love, it is necessarily a conscious emotion, and depression is often noticed in animals whose favorite human has died.

Therefore, in these ways, we are also akin to animals. It is particularly interesting to note that this means that there is at least a relevant sense in which animals are conscious of themselves. The really interesting question is this: How does our consciousness differ from theirs'?

This is a difficult question to address. We can all think of examples of the unmanageability of a frightened wild cat. These generators of superficial skin scratches cannot be calmed or contained; rather, they are to be allowed to escape. While one might say that these cats act on instinct, cats seem to be more rational about their fear when they are tamed: when they are familiar with the beneficence of a human being, they allow themselves to be approached without fear. However, this distinction between a tamed cat and a wild cat is not an entirely faithful one. They are all of the same species: they are all domesticated cats. The difference between the tame cats and the wild cats is that the natural ecosystem of domesticated cats is in human care. The natural habitat of a domestic cat is a human community. Thus, the wild cats are cats that are in permanent survival mode because their habitat is not conducive to their capabilities. One might notice a similarity between such wild cats and human beings driven insane from extreme isolational circumstances. In fact, every animal seems to know how to respond to every other relevant lifeform which occurs in the natural habitat of the animal in question. A whale knows how to respond to the presence of fish, sharks, etc. An ant knows how to respond to the presence of foliage and other small insects. It is when an animal is forced into an environment in which they do not have a place they they become insane and desperate from terror, like the wild cat. They respond to the environment in the ways that they know how to respond, but if there are not enough small birds and rodents for the cats to hunt, then they will soon face the consequences of a misplaced cat population: starvation. It is familiarity with the beneficence of a human being that tames a cat and keeps cat populations healthy.

Animals and Men

This difference between tame and wild domestic cats is an example of the ways in which animals have limited adaptability. All animals have a specified set of tools and skills which apply to certain atmospheres. When fish is dropped on dry land, it is entirely helpless. We often hear that dolphins are the most intelligent animals apart from humans, but their inability to build the structures humans build prevents them from adapting to any atmosphere but an underwater one.

The difference between human beings and animals is not our ability to adapt to an atmosphere, but our ability to adapt an atmosphere to ourselves. Our bodies provide the perfect tools for us to build further tools to enhance our abilities. Intelligence is not the only reason a cat cannot build tools: it also lacks the proper body mechanics to build tools. So even if a cat were intelligent enough to create tools and gear, the cat could never actually do it because it lacks an opposable thumb. Even our teeth reveal that we operate always with gear in mind: we cannot eat food without first preparing it, because our teeth are not adapted to tearing into either raw animals or most raw foliage. We'd be leaf-eaters if we could not use our hands.

Consciousness and Adaptability

But what does this new form of adaptability amount to? In short, it amounts to a new form of consciousness. Animals are intelligent enough to adapt and react to an environment. They can change their diet if there is a shift in other animal populations, they can find safe areas to nurse their wounds and their young, etc. But they are not intelligent enough to adapt the atmosphere to themselves, because no matter what effect they have on the atmosphere, it will not be an intended organizational change. A dog does not have the presence of mind devise bridges to cross bodies of water. Instead, it will try to either swim or go around the water. We have what Collingwood calls intellection, which is the creation and manipulation of functional formal structures. It is through this awareness of formal structure that we can construct and sustain changes in an environment. This new consciousness is evolutionary self-consciousness. Human beings understand change and progress, and we have the ability to encourage it. Thus, all of history is the evolution of the human race via cultural development. In a metaphorical sense, we are the product of evolution itself becoming self-aware.

The self-awareness of evolution can even be extrapolated from the story of the dinosaurs. In the course of the evolution of life on Earth, it looks as if at one time dinosaurs were head honcho. Presumably, primates and other smaller creatures were dinosaur food if they did not stay hidden. But when catastrophe struck, the dinosaurs could not handle the task of ruling the world. They systematically died, and the animals which were more clever and adaptable remained. Evidently, evolution took this catastrophe as a lesson that an entire living world cannot be adequately ruled with power and strength alone. A good ruler also needs a plan: enter Mankind.

This aggressive adaptability of which human beings are apparently the sole possessors is, as we said, a result of Man's ability to comprehend and create functional formal structures. The tools and skills that animals have (e. g. the claws and agility of a cat) are the functional formal structure imparted to that animal by evolution, but Mankind has been imparted a special tool: manipulation of functional formal structures. This entails that there is no functional form imposed upon Mankind by evolution. The ability to manipulate a functional formal structure grants Mankind access to an unlimited set of tools and skills. And because the limitations of a species' tools and skills are the limitations of its adaptability, given enough time, it appears that Mankind has no particular limitations in adaptability. Nature has not dictated that man acts and any one particular fashion. In plain English, Mankind has no natural habitat, for Mankind's habitat is artificial.

A Few Consequences

But if Mankind's atmosphere is pure artiface, then there are a few profound consequences.

First: whether or not metaphysicians agree, Mankind possesses a certain freedom. Mankind is free to devise its own functional structures, and He does so. Culture is the pure expression of human freedom. Consciously self-imposed functional structures (othewise known as 'disciplines') are freely chosen and practiced by human beings everywhere.

Second: This freedom is logically dependent upon and a necessary consequence of intelligence. It is because we have the ability to understand formal structures that we have the ability to manipulate them. Thus, intellect is distinctly and inextricably bound to freedom.

Third: Because this freedom implies and is implied by intelligence, Whenever human intelligence is at stake in any philosophical question, freedom is also at stake. This principle suggests to us that a human ethics can be arrived at through reason, but that this ethics will be an ethics of freedom and not an ethics of constraint.

Fourth: Because Mankind is a creator of functional formal structures, we should expect Mankind to invent stories about how He, Himself, came to be. We find these stories, these mythologies, littered throughout history. What is particularly strange about them is that human beings do not seem to recognize that these mythologies were invented by other human beings. It is as if we forget that inventing stories to explain the phenomena is just what Mankind does.

How ironic that the one species which has the freedom to invent His own habitat so often insists that this freedom does not exist and there there really is a single natural habitat for Mankind. Our cultures constantly demand that we conform to them, rather than allowing us to conform the culture to ourselves. Have we forgotten what it is that culture does? Or are we being manipulated by our culture? In this latter case, perhaps it is our culture itself that has become conscious.

Emotion and Manipulation

It is through our emotions that we allow our culture to manipulate us, so we ought to take this as a sign that it is time for us to re-examine our emotions as a Species. In point of fact, each of our conscious emotions teaches us a lesson about life.

1. Hatred teaches us that what causes us great pain and harm should be either avoided or neutralized.
2. Love teaches us that we are dependent upon the world, so the world must be treated with care.
3. Anger teaches us that when a system functions improperly, it must be corrected -- by force if necessary.
4. Shame teaches us that there is always more to learn, which is why humility is a necessary condition for growth.
5. Depression teaches us that even the greatest things in life are still ephemeral, so we must find ways both to limit and to deal with loss and absence.

Animals do not learn these lessons except through direct experience of the conscious emotions involved. Human beings, on the other hand, have the capacity to learn these lessons. Therefore, learn them we must, and once we know the wisdom of conscious emotions, we have the power to regulate which emotions we feel and when. We can organize our emotional lives just as we organize our active lives. Such a master of conscious emotions will choose to feel love more often than any other emotion. He will choose to reject shame as a useless emotion once its lesson is fully learned. He will avoid hatred as an impediment to love, but will prize anger as a useful tool in times when immediate and forceful action is necessary.

So let us be masters of conscious emotions. Let us organize our lives with a rich an complex set of beneficial emotions, just as we ought to organize our diet, our work, our daily habits, etc. We are creators of functional formal structures, and emotions are no exception.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Are the Minimal Ontological Commitments of Intelligent Design?

Suppose that natural biogenesis could be proven statistically impossible. Suppose, even further, that by all scientific laws it is impossible. For example, we can imagine that a fundamental structure of life, such as DNA, might admit absolutely no plausible explanation from any scientific theory applied to it. Some claim that this is, in fact, the case. If this hypothetical situation obtains, it would demonstrate that the origin of life amounts to an ad hoc introduction of an information-containing system into the generally chaotic natural universe.

What is interesting about this hypothetical result is that we would be forced to deal with the consequences of the truth of Intelligent Design (reader beware: Intelligent Design (ID) should only be invoked in biological cases where evolution fails. This is because evolution is explainable in terms of physical science, whereas ID is not).

So who is the intelligence? Perhaps aliens, you say. Well, this is unfortunately a pseudo-answer. If Earthly life was designed by super-intelligent aliens, then there still exist life-forms whose origin is unexplained. To blame it on the aliens is to simply push the question back a step.

A Christian will scream and shout at this point that it must be God, but we must shun the Christian's dogmatism and focus on what the facts actually tell us. The standard Christian mistake is to associate the complicated Judeo-Christian God with the Designer. The designer must be an intelligence, but it seems as if this intelligence cannot simply be a material being. If it were a material being, then one might ask where the being's brain is if it has such a powerful mind that it can think such complicated patterns on such a fundamental level. In other words, the Designer, as an explanation invoked when science admits that it cannot explain the phenomenon of life, is an explicitly unscientific explanation. But keep in mind that science is nothing more than the explanation and description of the function of energy and matter. This tells us that we may infer from the (hypothetical) truth of ID that there exists some other kind of thing besides energy and matter.

Some intelligent design theorists call this third type of thing (though it is really only a second type of thing because energy and matter are reducible to each other) "information". It is interesting that this type of thing is described as information, because the only thing that can process information is a mind. So we find ourselves attributing a mind to the Designer. Well this is no surprise, though it starts to play into the hand of the Christian scientifico-theologist.

So what sort of mind must it be? The standard response is that the mind must be infinite because the universe is infinite in size (though perhaps not in matter and energy content). But is this so? An infinite mind would be required to think such a universe, but we are not talking about the creation of a universe we are only talking about the creation of life. Because the functional features of a single-celled organism (from which all life presumably sprang) are finite in detail, one may assume that an infinite amount of knowledge is not necessary to be able to design such a thing. In fact, it is not implausible that the human race might one day produce an equally complex form of life. Or at least that we might be able to completely reverse-engineer such an organism.

The only thing that ID proves to us, then, is that Mind must exist, and it must be much more powerful than we originally thought. So we have two principles: World and Mind. These principles are also know in the more familiar terms "matter" and "form". The reason I prefer "World" and "Mind" is that it is mind that thinks form and it is the universe which contains matter. The principles that I am positing are more fundamental. Where form and matter are really just categories of existing things, World and Mind are the names of the entities without which form and matter would not be possible.

In this dualism, one will find that there is no better reason to call the Designer "God" than there is to call the World "God". The reason is that each is dependent upon the other. Because the Designer's only task is to generate more beings like itself (minds), the Designer would not exist if there were nothing to design. And this is an intuitive truism, because it is almost certain that a human mind would never think if it had no sensory input. For a human mind cannot even develop out of infancy without input.

This probably reproduces Hegel's argument for the dependence of God upon creation, but I have read very little Hegel, so I feel no obligation to give him credit for this thought. In any case, it is important to note that what is minimally necessitated by the position of ID is the existence of a World and a World-Mind (if you will). But just as matter is part of the world, so we would want to say that form (or information) is part of the mind. In previous posts concerning Wittgenstein, I have gone on at length about how information -- meaning-- exists only in the mind (as distinct from physical explanations of behavior). If my argument that all meaning exists only in the mind and is merely recorded in the physical world holds, then we have an interesting result: We seem to be the peers of Mind. We are solar-systems in the galaxy that is the Mind: we emulate Mind on a smaller scale. But the solar-system is part of the galaxy, just as we are part of Mind (for we are ultimately the invention of Mind)

Thus, pantheistic-dualism is ID's bare-bones theology. Crazy, huh? Makes me wonder how plausible ID really is.

-Priam's Pride

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On the Severity of the Economic Condition

I have recently found numerous useful videos and links concerning the current economic crisis. I believe that the economic danger that the entire world is in cannot be overstated. If you want to know what I believe this, then this is where I recommend you begin:

First, I recommend a very clear visual explanation of the current crisis involving sub-prime mortgages: Part 1, Part 2. It is called "The Crisis of Credit, Visualized". This is about the easiest way to understand what is happening in the economy right now if you only have 10 minutes. I would like to point out that according to the explanation in this video, it appears that the bailout package is nothing more than the American people paying the loans that banks took out so they could leverage them into mortgages. In other words, we are paying for the risks that they took to make a little more money. How absurd, considering we received none of the benefit of the leveraged mortgages!

The next piece I would recommend is an explanation of the mechanism of the Fed. A good place to start is an interview with political and economic guru, G. Edward Griffin, who explains why the Fed and its large brethren banks are a scam.

Considering that the banks' practice of creating money out of nothing (selling us debt) is the cause of inflation, watching this interview (only the first 8 1/2 minutes) ought to invoke a note of horror as one realizes that the ultimate economic effect of this inflation is to reduce the amount of money the middle class has and increase the amount of money the top tier has.

If the preceding links do not convince you that something is fundamentally wrong with how our economy is working, then I urge you to at least listen to Gerald Celente, whose social, political and economic trend-casting has been astoundingly accurate.

So who should we turn to? Who has a solution? If only the government were run by persons like George Soros. Then perhaps we would have a few critical minds who have a clear vision of how problems need to be solved rather than avoided. Though perhaps Soros' infamy would preclude him in particular from being considered a leader; nevertheless, his understanding of how people function in large groups is impressive. I have already mentioned Peter Joseph and the Venus Project who have a very optimistic vision of how the world could be. Perhaps we just need the appropriate goal. George Soros, of course, is not nearly as optimistic, at least for the near future.

Something big is about to happen. It's time to have Plan B prepared, folks.

-Priam's Pride

Friday, February 20, 2009

How Student Loans Have Helped Make America Stupid

Out of youthful indifference, I attended an undergraduate school that no-one has ever heard of. Looking back on this choice, I sometimes wonder where I would be if I had put some effort into thinking out how I wanted to live my life and how I was going to survive after college. But this is not to say that I regret the choice, for to do so would be to deny that the school ultimately came to mean something to me, which it did. Nevertheless, indifference in my youth caused two things: (1) an absurd amount of student loan debt, due to the fact that I attended a private school; and (2) a degree with which I could do virtually nothing. Again, do not think that I discourage loving a subject so much as to want to study it without regard for the monetary outcome. Indeed, I myself would rather be a starving artist than than a thriving businessman. So it is not that I reject love of the arts, as this would be contradiction considering my own love for them. Rather, I reject that there is such a dichotomy as starving artists versus thriving businessmen. And yet it seems as though, today, I must become a businessman of some sort in order to survive.

I am now in my last semester of a Master of Arts program in philosophy at LSU. "Why are you there?" you might ask me. To this I would respond that I am here because my appetite was whetted in my undergraduate career and this was a chance to learn more about a subject in which I had already promised myself a future Ph.D. I am here because in order to get a decent job doing philosophy, one must come out of a top school. But what if I do not get into a top school, because admission rates are cutthroat? Sounds like I'm in trouble, aren't I? And this is all prior to the process of attempting to find a job in academia. It seems as if I simply must have high standards for myself from now on, so that I can scrape by. "At least," I will tell myself, "I am doing what I want to be doing."

But is being a professor what I want to be doing? Suppose that in the course of my career at LSU, I discovered that I needed no more direction in philosophy except for access to an excellent library and an occasional conversation with an expert. Suppose, that is, that I have matured enough academically to be competent to begin work on a dissertation. Suppose also that I have no particular love for teaching in the traditional classroom setting. And while we're imagining possible worlds, let us consider that even if I do land a professorship, I will be bogged down by bureaucratic policies which are designed to save the school money rather than advance human knowledge. It seems as if professors are required to teach classes that they often do not want to teach (for not everyone wants to be training novices -- it takes a certain kind of love), in addition to their requirement to jump through administrative and bureaucratic hoops. So let us imagine that the road to getting a Ph.D. is long, difficult and redundant (considering how many classes I will still have to take); and let us imagine that obtaining a professorship is extremely difficult; and finally let us imagine that when I am a professor, I will still have very little time for research, writing, and teaching those who want to hear what I have to say. Now let us cease imagining, for this picture is reality.

But if this possible world is the real world, then it seems as if I will not be doing what I want to do if I end up being a professor. So why on Earth would I put myself through all the hard work, all the lip-synching, all the form-filling that is involved in acquiring a professorship? What is the real reason that I am still pursuing a Ph.D.? It is because I was fooled, hoodwinked, I've been had. When I was a kid I was convinced that it was a good idea to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt in the hopes of being able to pay that back. But this is not a lucrative investment. I have been sold a raw deal before I even knew what a deal was. The fact of the matter is that my investment is virtually guaranteed not to be able to pay for itself. The reason for this is that while I am in school, my interest compounds (because my parents were not quite poor enough to secure subsidized loans for me) and increases the capital; but, statistically speaking, I will almost certainly never get a job in philosophy that will allow me to pay back these loans in any reasonable or comfortable fashion. The most likely way for me to pay back my student loans (if I ever do) is through hard work at a job that I will probably hate.

So why am I still in school, then? The reason is simple. While I am in school, I do not have to pay back the student loans. So as long as I stay in school, the absurd dream of landing a perfect professorial job is still alive, and I need not pay for anything.

You might suggest to me that I enter a different field. And if I were to meet my former self, I certainly would have tried to give him some sense before willingly accepting all those loans. But the problem is that I have been groomed for a professorship -- it seems to be my doom. I am trained in virtually nothing else (nothing practical, anyway).

My best solution is this: (1) I will stay in school as long as I can; (2) while I am here I will seek reform; and (3) if reform is not possible, I will assist in revolution.

What the America is doing to its young intelligensia is criminal. We are crippled by debt incurred before we even know the consequences. We are soon to become the educated but homeless. Our parents owed it to us to secure us a good education which can be attained without personal debt, but this has not been done. We are the future and we are being downtrodden; it is as if America wants its leaders to be unintelligent and uncultured profiteers. It's no wonder that popular culture reduces to little more than advertisement and immediate unhealthy physical pleasure. The first generates profit and the second appeals to the palate of the ignorant. For example, most people do not know what good art is because they have been provided no experience of it. And you know, reader, what I mean. When you speak to the average American about music or movies, you are always disappointed at the overt ignorance and poor taste that the average American has. From Brittany Spears to The Fast and the Furious, from CSI to John Grisham novels. You are disappointed and I am too.

America has become stupid and ignorant. And now they do not even have a profit to show for their ignorance. We now have the opportunity to learn the lesson that our ignorance and stupidity cannot be allowed to persist any longer. We cannot let ourselves be fooled by banks who sell you money for more money. We cannot let ourselves be fooled by political parties who are more interested in combating each other than devising a sustainable political atmosphere. We must come out of our ignorance!

But are we already too stupid and ignorant to learn this lesson?

-Priam's Pride