Letters passing in the night as Rome burns

M.,

Thanks for your input. I value your intelligence and your comments a lot.

I think you’ve reminded me about “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” concept again from a sense of compassion because you view me as hoping that what I say will change the world. And what you see is me banging my head against a wall which will never move because I don’t understand how the world actually works.

I appreciate your friendship and your compassion (if that’s what it is that motivates you to speak). But, I doubt you understand my motivations as well as you imagine. And that’s not meant to be a dig or a rebuff. I would love for you or anyone I consider to be a friend to understand me better so that when we talk or write, we are working within the same framework of understandings.

I’m not sure where the deep roots of my motivation differ from what you imagine them to be. I suppose some of it may be spiritual as I believe that spiritual motivations are largely anathema to you. And I believe there are secular material reasons as well to believe that the world can be a better place and to believe that action in aid of a better world is not wasted.

The world does make progress – slow and inefficient as it is. We’ve moved from various forms of totalitarianism to democracies, we’ve moved from dog-eat-dog societies to ones with social welfare protection nets. Not everywhere and not everyone – but these things are happening. We can, in many societies, now read what ever books we want to even if they are about other political systems or alternative religious beliefs. Doing that was difficult, if not impossible, not too long ago. We can, in many societies, rely on the rule-of-law to feel that our lands and possessions are relatively safe from confiscation by those more powerful than ourselves.

So, complete cynicism about mankind’s prospects and potentials doesn’t appeal to me. I can see that we can become better people because we’ve been, in fits and starts, becoming better people.

That’s what I might call an on-the-ground empirical judgment. But I have also motivations that arise from spiritual wellsprings.

From this I get that working for a better world should not be contingent on getting results. I get that speaking your highest truth is of value in and of itself. I also understand, that to those who believe there is no meaning or purpose to the world and who are deeply cynical of it, such actions, without obvious results, are just a form of pissing into the wind.

But, all that energy goes somewhere. If no one had been willing to speak up in favor of women’s rights or the abolition of slavery unless he or she was certain of success, then I doubt that women would have ever received the vote or the slaves been freed. But many people spoke up and worked in obscurity with nothing to show for their efforts but rejection and ridicule for decades – even centuries. But, eventually, their aggregate efforts begin to yield results. People resist change just as the rock resists the river – but eventually, if the river flows long enough, the rock will yield.

The things I write about appeal to only a small fringe. The vast vast majority don’t care and would avoid writings like mine on sight. And of the few who do read them, many are already ‘in the choir’ as they say and need no more convincing. But there are the very few who come by at that critical point in their thinking where they are open to new ideas and something I say may, just may, cause their next insight to click into place.

You might say, ‘Is that small return on investment worth all the effort and angst?” Well, it doesn’t matter because it is not a return on investment motivated action. It is a ‘it-is-right-in-and-of-itself’ action and it needs no external justification in my subjective world.

So, to summarize: Much of what I do is just because I think it is the right thing to do. But, I also act because I can see that mankind is capable of improving – because we have been improving.

The deep irony, as I am sure you are aware, is that even while I do these idealistic things, the empirical scientist in me is making hard predictive judgments about how mankind’s future is likely to turn out in the near term (say the next 20 to 100 years) – and I’m judging those probabilities as very bad indeed.

That’s why I’m focused on New Zealand – and I think I’ve discussed this with you before. I still have a very deep motivation to work for a better world but I’m enough of a physical pragmatist to realize that it is time to get out of harm’s way.

So, I am not unhappily beating myself to death for lost causes. And even if the world does goes to ruin, and I strongly suspect it will, I will still not think my efforts were wasted. Spiritually, I don’t think doing the right thing is ever wasted – though we may not see the results.

The advocates of Vedanta, a form of Hinduism, say that one should do their absolute best in all that they do and then be completely indifferent with regard to how the results of their actions turn out.

The Buddhists say that the source of all of our unhappiness is that we want things to be different than as they are. Many people mistake that for meaning that we cannot and should not work for improvement. But we can work to make things better and also accept how they are with equanimity – without it being a conflict. It is hard idea for the logical mind to accept but the spiritual heart grasps it well.

I’m a happy and lucky guy. I’ve got a good business and great wife and two fine strong sons. My health and intelligence are good. I live in one of the bests places in the world at an amazing time in the world’s history. I have many blessings.

If I didn’t believe that life had any meaning or purpose, I could work to see how many material toys I could gather around me in a pile before I died to help me cope with the emptiness of it all.

But I do believe it has purpose and meaning even if I cannot understand much about them. I can see that life advances and that mankind has been advancing. I think those advances have something to do with Spirit’s purposes here and so I want to put my shoulder against that self-same wheel that advances life, raises awareness and treasures emerging complexity on this planet and I want to push. I have no illusions that I’m going to be the one to put the problems right. But I do believe I’m moving in the right direction and that’s enough, in and of itself.

You said, “The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

It’s true that I would like a different result and I think it is inherently right and fulfilling to work for a different result – but I am not expecting one and my happiness is not dependent upon one. Perhaps that’s the part you don’t get – perhaps you always see my actions as part of some return-on-investment strategy.

Dennis
=====================================

Hello Dennis,

I enjoy reading your web-site. I must admit, that I am constantly amazed that you get so disappointed at the nature of humans. For example, in your latest post you highlight:

“We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.”

How long will it take for you to get it through your thick noggin that this is the way it is?????

Do you know that I work for a consensus organization? If this is a new term for you, it means all decisions have to be agreed by everybody unanimously. That which you quote as frustrating, is business as usual in large GOs and NGOs (Governement and Non-Government Organisations).

These people do not do things for the good of humanity! They do it for the good (survival) of the self. The self can be more than the individual, maybe the family or the organisation. But it is primarily self survival. We could do a treatise on this, but I think you get my meaning.

Let me remind you on something I told you some time back: The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

M.

32 Responses to “Letters passing in the night as Rome burns”

  1. fergus says:

    Hi guys.
    Dennis, your response to Michael reminds me of what a Calvinist once described to me as ‘aspiring to Grace’. The idea is that you do your best to act in such a way as to earn God’s Grace. The interesting part comes next; as I understand it (and I apologise to any Calvinists in advance), attaining a state of Grace is not possible; you are either in God’s Grace from the start, or you are not, and you cannot ‘win’ grace, however hard you try. but you should still act as if you are aiming for it. To a non-believer, this might sound like a waste of time, but to a Calvinist, it is a guiding principle of moral behaviour, and, aspiring towards the love of God is the way you find meaning in your life.

    Don’t think I’m promoting Calvinism here; I’m a humanist myself; it’s the idea of trying to do good which is the point. The way you describe the desire/hope, to influence just one person, is almost religious, though – certainly spiritual.

    You talk about not being sure how to define your meaning and purpose in life. As a phenomenologist (no, that’s not a religion, it’s a philosophy), I’d suggest that, before any meaning is made (Oh, I’m a bit of a constructivist, too) , there is what Levinas calls the ‘otherwise-than-being’. In a horrible paraphrase, this is the attitude, or predisposition, to others which exists within us before we engage in conversation, before we make meanings together, before purpose (intentionality) is an issue. It is in this attitude that the possibility of goodness (and truth, justice and love) exists in all of us. Broadly, this attitude is ‘responsibility’ and ‘care’.

    In other words, if we feel as if we want to be responsible and to care about others, we have already created the grounds of a purposeful life which aspires to goodness, and which is founded on goodness. From what you say of yourself, this seems to be what you are trying to say.

    My wife thinks it is pretentious, but I often end my blog entries with the expression ‘be loved’. This is not an instruction to others, but a description and an invitation, as well as a welcome. The welcome is where the goodness begins.

    Respect and regards,

  2. Dennis says:

    Fergus, thanks for your comments here. Much appreciated. I think your insights are close to the mark but, perhaps, not dead on. The Calvinists sound like they are still wrestling with some obscure form of Original Sin when you say they are either in a state of grace or not and there is nothing they can do to influence the matter. I see things as being much more fluid. I wrote a piece here about my core beliefs. I’d love it if you gave it a read.

    http://samadhisoft.com/index.php?page_id=123

    I see you’ve linked to my blog. Thank you! I’ve just linked back.

    be loved, as well.

  3. fergus says:

    I have just read it. I already have some thoughts, but a proper response will take a little time to compile. Please be patient. At first glance, it makes you sound a little bit like a Quaker, if that makes sense. And you’re right about the Calvinists, in the sense that Original Sin relates to Grace, but this is not a necessary condition of holding to the principle that an aspiration to goodness is in itself good.
    More comments later.
    Regards,

  4. MD says:

    Hum, seems we have some interest in this topic.

    I must say I do find these comments interesting. On the one hand we have a Christian connection that drives individuals to strive for grace even if it is not possible to achieve it. Dennis seems to think this is connected to the concept of original sin. On the other hand, Dennis says his driving motivation is more fluid in that it is spiritually inspired.

    I do not really see the difference. I don’t know exactly what it means to be spiritual but not religious. I suppose if you are religious you accept some formal set of rules that guide ones life towards achieving God’s will. However, I suspect that if one is spiritual they also believe in a higher being, but they are free to set the rules as to what that means and what is necessary to reach that higher beings real purpose for the individual. In Dennis’ case this is manifested by reaching a state of goodness. Either way, the individual is stuck trying to interpret what the higher being is all about and what the individual’s meaning, purpose and motivation is with respect to pleasing the higher being.

    So, in the end it really is all about gaining acceptance and approval. I do not find this liberating or pleasant. In fact it is a form of self imposed penance. It is to me like a child that is doing something and keeps looking over his shoulder at his mother or father to see if they are smiling and happy or dower and angry and then adjusting accordingly.

    MD

  5. Dennis says:

    Mike, please read the piece I asked Fergus to read in the comments above about my core beliefs. If we’re going to discuss my views, which I’m certainly willing to do, then let’s begin from what I said in that piece about my personal philosophy. It only confuses things to bring in commentary about Original Sin and Calvinists and such when they were perpherial to my beliefs in the first place.

  6. MD says:

    Dennis,

    I did read it before my response. In your core beliefs, you make spirit central to what drives you. That is what my comment addresses. I quote below:

    “I can’t explain it or defend it, but for me it gets stronger year by year and it doesn’t matter if it is just my own little subjective world. I don’t believe in the function of priests – I think each of us is free to work out what their life is – by what we conscious choose to believe about Spirit, life, purpose and meaning. And, if we are judged, then it can only be by how near or far from our beliefs our actions lie.”

    I believe my point is valid. If not, then please explain to me what spirit is, and how it is not a bias as I have alluded to. Or, it is OK with me if we drop this line as we have gone around this May-Pole before.

  7. fergus says:

    Okay, a couple of thoughts, then, Dennis, Mike:

    First off, the mention of Calvinism and the Quakers is a reference to the way in which Dennis described his spirituality and his approach to the world, and was intended as an analogy; all I was trying to say was that there are elements of his spiritual thinking which appear to be comparable with some of the tenets of these particular branches of faith.

    As it reads, Dennis (correct where necessary), you have a ‘faith’; [a belief which is not reducible to rationality], that there is an ‘ordering force’ at work in the Universe. The manifestation of this force’s ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’, inasmuch as it can be understood this way, is the tendency towards order and away from chaos. Furthermore, this force appears to have sentience; you describe ‘Spirit’ with a capital, and refer to ‘the Blessed One’. I sense some uncertainty about this, though, as if you are still exploring the possibilities in terms of what this might mean…

    Your inclination to view the search for meaning/purpose as a personal, unmediated ‘quest’, is the distinction that Mike is directing himself towards; in most religions, truth/understanding/purpose of the ‘unimaginable being’ must be mediated through humans/holy people, be they priests, bodhisattvas, or whatever. You view of your relationship with the ordering sentience of the universe is broadly Protestant, in that you believe that mediation is not necessary, and only direct reflection will lead you to your own, personal understanding, or purpose.

    Mike, you need to recognise that there is a fundamental break in place between the mentality in which faith comes to be, and that which is the rational. To describe this inclination towards a faith as a ‘bias’ is to apply rationalist principles to a subject which eludes reason, and must always do so.

    There are several philosophical uncertainties at play here, leading back to some fundamental questions about what we think we are referring to when we use the term ‘spirit’ (either within our ‘selves’ or as an externality), why we tend to divide our sense of what we are into two types of experience, the internal and the external, or, if you like, the corporeal and the spiritual, and about the possibility of arriving at a shared understanding of what it means to conceive of an ‘unimaginable other’.

    Mike, your comment leaves us with a question of whether it is always the case that a sense of ‘spirit’ implies a belief in a higher ‘being’. My feeling on this is that it is common, but not necessary; one can be an ‘essentialist’ without positing ‘purpose’ or meaning. Dennis, though, you appear to be inclined towards seeing some kind of ‘ordering force’ at work.

    As you may imagine, I have more thoughts on this subject, but probably best if they wait for another time. Let’s leave it that there are a great many assumptions embedded in your version of ‘spirituality’, which you may or may not want to ‘unpack’ and reason about.

    To both of you, regards,

  8. MD says:

    Fergus,

    You have covered a lot of ground here. I have several question about this, but I prefer to read Dennis’s response as most of this relates to him. I will ask this though: What exactly is an essentialist?

    MD

  9. fergus says:

    Sorry Mike; by ‘essentialist’ I intended to express a person who believes that people (or even things) have some essence, separate to, but contained within, their substance. Whether the reality of a thing lies in its essence or its substance is a tricky question. Call it ‘mind-body’ dualism, if you like.

    F. 🙂

  10. Dennis says:

    Fergus, you said of me, “you have a ‘faith’; [a belief which is not reducible to rationality], that there is an ‘ordering force’ at work in the Universe. The manifestation of this force’s ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’, inasmuch as it can be understood this way, is the tendency towards order and away from chaos. Furthermore, this force appears to have sentience; you describe ‘Spirit’ with a capital, and refer to ‘the Blessed One’. I sense some uncertainty about this, though, as if you are still exploring the possibilities in terms of what this might mean…”

    That’s all quite fair and I can own it well. And yes, there is some uncertainty. If I may offer a Zen Koan, the coin of the realm in many circles and utterly useless in others:

    Great Doubt, Great Awakening
    Little Doubt, Little Awakening
    No Doubt, No awakening

    So, yes, I have doubts and uncertainties but I think they are my friends.

    You also said, “Mike, you need to recognise that there is a fundamental break in place between the mentality in which faith comes to be, and that which is the rational. To describe this inclination towards a faith as a ‘bias’ is to apply rationalist principles to a subject which eludes reason, and must always do so.”

    How apt. I’ve long since explained to Mike (we’ve been friends since college) that I have no rational defense to offer up for my choice to believe in meaning and purpose on faith. I’m well aware that it is indefensible and I’m comfortable with that. But, ever the relentless rationalist, Mike constantly calls me to see that this is irrational and then he wonders why I smile….

    The deep irony in the discussion/debate between the man of faith and the man of rationality is that if Spirit exists and is responsible for all of existence then that situation is indistingushible from the situation in which there is no creative force and everything just is. I.e., posed like this, Spirit is either everything or nothing and a logician would have to admit, after a bit of reflection, that those positions are utterly equivalent.

    Imagine a man, profoundly blind from birth. If you talk to him of light or dark, he can have no notion of what you might mean because having only experienced one, he has nothing to differ it against. So it is if Spirit is everything or nothing.

    So, an act of faith to believe that Spirit and purpose exists is exactly the same as the act of faith that asserts they do not. So one has to regard with humor the rationalist’s assertion that his choice is superior.

    Fergus, you also said, “Dennis … you appear to be inclined towards seeing some kind of ‘ordering force’ at work.” True. But, of course, I can prove nothing and would never assert I could.

    This is all deep stuff and if one has wandered for years through the world’s various mystic scriptures, you will find that many ideas like this (and deeper) have been put forth about ‘how it really is’.

    When I think of this, I always imagine man’s faithful friend, the dog, lying at his master’s feet and looking around and regarding with curiousity all of man’s creations and devices around him. Televisions, incandescent lights, books, music and on and on. He looks but what can he really know? Man’s intelligence is so much higher than his own that almost everything we do is on the other side of magic for him.

    So, do we imagine we are the apital end of all intelligence in creation? We don’t even have to postulate a Spirit behind all of this. Even an intelligent alien species 10,000 years ahead of us would be far beyond our ability to comprehend.

    Intelligence and awareness here on earth goes down from our species all the way to the basement bacteria or even the virus. Why should the continuum not go the other way as well? The universe has existed 13-14 billion years and our planet has only been around for 4 billion of those at the outside. We have a lot of nerve imagining we’re the top of the pile and that we can understand how it all works.

    Well, I’ve raved on enough here. The ball’s in your court, gentlemen.

  11. MD says:

    Having read the last comment, I could not help but think back to Spinoza. Much of what the philosophy presented seems to parallel his thinking. After that, I then pondered on what we are doing going down this path. It is a no win situation. I could continue to argue the rationalist side and you could continue to rebut me or whatever, but in the end I am not sure we will end up any place.

    This started because I commented to Dennis that I felt he was chasing red herrings and he advise he had to do it because it is somehow impeded in his prime directive. I will never understand that. I have an opinion on it, but I am afraid it would be misunderstood and would hurt feelings. At this juncture, I will just say may the force be with you.

    MD

  12. fergus says:

    Just a little bit more; Dennis, this is yours;
    “…The deep irony in the discussion/debate between the man of faith and the man of rationality is that if Spirit exists and is responsible for all of existence then that situation is indistingushible from the situation in which there is no creative force and everything just is. I.e., posed like this, Spirit is either everything or nothing and a logician would have to admit, after a bit of reflection, that those positions are utterly equivalent….”

    Look at this the other way: the existence of ‘spirit’ is unprovable, which is why it mus be a matter of faith, not knowledge. But your ‘ordering force’ presupposes that there is an observable difference between objects of spirit and those not: that of the existence of ‘orderliness’. This, too is unprovable.

    Going down this line, we end up recognising that if the is anything in existence which in itself demonstrates the existence of spirit it is order, but order is a function … we end up with the classical circularity problem of all variations of the argument by design.

    This discussion could go on forever… let me leave you with this proposal:
    the meaning (and sense of purpose) of our existence is determined by us, our relation to the world, and the relation between our meanings for ourselves and the meanings others posit for us. This holds true whether there is an ordering force external to us or not. But inasmuch as the meaning of our being exists in our own narratives (stories) and those of others, it is we who are the ordering force behind them; we make our own meanings, both individually and ‘in the world’. we cannot know whether our interpretation of our meaning as grounded in spirit is true or not, so we must accept that it can have no more status than that of any narrative; in the end, the meaning is subjective and relative, even if the truth behind the meaning exists, because this is opaque to our perception.

    There are many ways to respond to this; one is to continue to posit the unknowable external order beyond us, the other is to decide it is redundant, and eliminate it. This choice, too, is a part of our creation of meaning. Your philosophy appears to be irreducibly dualistic and theistic, but it does not have to be; it is possible to continue to hold to what you perceive about the world without the ideas of spirit and order, and avoid some problematic questions. A strict humanist might argue that, in perpetuating the superstitious core of your narrative, you are defying the rationality which is the principle ordering force which justifies your superstition.

    You also could address the question why, if such a thing as a ‘spirit’ exists, it should encompass order, but not chaos? Surely, the one only has meaning because of the existence of the other. This might suggest that the ‘spirit’ which gives us order also gives us chaos. The consequence of this might be to develop a broadly taoist notion of being ‘in the balance’.

    That’ll do for now…

  13. MD says:

    Fergus,

    I very much appreciate the last paragraph; well put. If Dennis has it correct and we are moving towards order through the increasing complexity of life forms over time, then I suppose it could be like a pendulum, moving towards order slowing, stopping for an instant, and then reversing upon itself towords chaos, etc., etc., etc. If so, I wonder if we ever hit complete order and then total chaos? Things that make you go “hum” in the middle of the night.

    MD

  14. Dennis says:

    Fergus,

    You said,

    “your ‘ordering force’ presupposes that there is an observable difference between objects of spirit and those not: that of the existence of ‘orderliness’. This, too is unprovable.”

    Yes, I agree without reservation. A universe that is intentionally ordered and one that orders itself automatically somehow as a function of the physical laws in play – these two are indistinguishable.

    My desire/penchant to engage in an act of faith and believe that there is purpose, meaning and intentional order is fully and unabashedly an a-priori act of faith. I distinctly do *not* think there is an ‘observable difference’.

    It seems, perhaps, that those who want to understand my views hope to find the hidden reasoning hidden within the faith of my assertions. And this is not an unreasonable quest at all because I do consider myself (and advertise myself) as a decidedly rational and scientifically oriented person.

    But, to me this physical existence is fully encompassed within a greater something (hint: unprovable assertion here) that is Spiritual. And this is how I keep my material equipment from getting tangled up in my spiritual underwear.

    Within that subset of the greater existence which is this physical plane, all that logic and science demands needs to be granted fully. But, to me, this physical plane is not the entire picture. It is just a closed system within something larger.

    But, if someone wants to find logic in my story, I would refer them to Pascal’s Wager (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/). With all due respect to Pascal, I came up with a version of his wager on my own and for years believed it was original – a foolish thought.

    Imagine a square composed of four internal squares within it.

    Along the left side, we label the top row as ‘God Exists’ and the bottom row as ‘God doesn’t exist’.

    And along the top, we label the left column as ‘I Believe’ and the right column as ‘I do not Believe’.

    In this little game, it is a given that the existence of God cannot be proven either way. All the player can do is to choose to believe or not believe even as they acknowledge that they cannot know the real truth of the matter.

    Now, we look at each of the four internal boxes and consider their ramifications.

    (1) If God does not exist and we choose to not believe, then that’s a good match but since we are living in an existence without purpose of meaning – it doesn’t really matter, does it?

    (2) If God does not exist and we choose to believe he does, then we are wasting our time – but it also doesn’t really matter, does it?

    (3) If God exists and we choose to believe he exists, then we’ve made the right call in the situation where it might actually matter.

    (4) And finally, if God exists and we choose to not believe that he exists, then we’ve made the wrong call in the situation where it might actually matter.

    We cannot know if God exists and yet we must decide (or we can opt to not decide – but that’s a choice as well).

    In the absence of any clue as to what’s right, what will the rational man do when he considers his four options and their possible payoffs or irrelevancies?

    I think if he emotionally fears any signs of weakness within himself, he will take the hard road and say, ‘I will not choose to believe just because it is the best option available because I may be making that choice from fear and I will not bend – I am a rationalist, not a gambler or a weakling.’

    I think the man who’s rationality is not clouded by fear and ego, will simply say, ‘I will choose to believe because it is the option with the biggest payoff and if I am wrong, I am no worse off.’

    He will see how very sad it would be to choose to not believe if God actually did exist. How he would be condemning himself to a life of living in an apparently pointless and meaningless existence.

    I personally think that the individual choosing to believe will be better off emotionally and have a happier life than the one choosing consciously to live in an existence without purpose and meaning. Certainly, that’s been my experience.

    We cannot know. Why condemn ourselves to certain pointlessness when we cannot know if is all pointless? Why not choose (a-priori) to live as if it does matter and fully acknowledge that it may not.

    If this conversation was in a slightly different vein and we were talking about getting rich, the conversation might go something like this:

    We should try to start various businesses up and to work hard on them. Perhaps, at the end of the day, one of our enterprises will win big and we will end up with a pile of money. And, it is for certain that if we don’t try, it is very unlikely that a pile of money is going to seek us out and fall on our head. We’ve all heard this logic and it is very hard to argue with; the necessary prerequisite for winning – is trying to win.

    So, in this case, what would we think of the man who said, “Well, if you can’t prove that starting businesses up and working hard is definitely going to result in riches, then I’m not going to risk being a fool and working hard and maybe ending up with nothing”?

    Hmmmmm?

  15. Dennis says:

    Fergus,

    Your last post had several excellent bits within it that I wanted to respond to.

    Here, I’m going to quote another bit of what you said and engage in a response to it. Thanks for sharing all of this excellent material.

    You proposed as follows:

    “the meaning (and sense of purpose) of our existence is determined by us, our relation to the world, and the relation between our meanings for ourselves and the meanings others posit for us. This holds true whether there is an ordering force external to us or not. But inasmuch as the meaning of our being exists in our own narratives (stories) and those of others, it is we who are the ordering force behind them; we make our own meanings, both individually and ‘in the world’. we cannot know whether our interpretation of our meaning as grounded in spirit is true or not, so we must accept that it can have no more status than that of any narrative; in the end, the meaning is subjective and relative, even if the truth behind the meaning exists, because this is opaque to our perception.”

    I think this is precisely what I was saying here in my previous comment. I believe we are really well aligned here.

    You then say, “There are many ways to respond to this; one is to continue to posit the unknowable external order beyond us, the other is to decide it is redundant, and eliminate it. This choice, too, is a part of our creation of meaning.”

    And again I agree.

    Then you say, “Your philosophy appears to be irreducibly dualistic and theistic…”

    And here I stumble.

    I believe that all duality is only apparent just as I believe that all paradoxes are only apparent. In the many philosophies and scriptures I’ve wandered through, the deepest threads allude to the fundamental unity of everything. Certainly, I’ve adopted this belief after a lot of culling (note, I’ve said belief, nothing is proven or provable).

    As a side note on the secular side, I had a professor in a logic class in college make an assertion that struck me with great force then and has never left me. He said (paraphrased) that if the laws of existence are all cut from one cloth, then we can hope to reason our way through existence. But that if there are two or more sets of laws operative in existence, then we can not expect to reason our way though existence because we will come to discontinuities.

    But, back to the main thread. I’m not sure that I will own up to be irreducibly theistic either.

    As I said, I think that everything is really just part of one thing. And that this Unity implies that if Spirit or the Beloved or whatever one chooses to call it exists, then it is also part of the one. In fact, I would go so far as to say EVERYTHING is Spirit.

    This was an assertion I referred to earlier when I said that a universe in which everything is Spirit is indistinguishable from a universe in which nothing is Spirit.

    And, as regards being a Theist, other than asserting that there seems to me to be purpose and meaning here in my existence, I can’t really say anything about what it might be other than the unity I believe we all exist within. Does it have a long white beard and pontificate? Is it a personal God or an impersonal God? Do such questions even mean anything? I have no idea.

    Personally, I roll laughing on the floor when I hear folks say things like, “God wants you to put your spare change into this little collection basket here.” Or, “God thinks that homosexuals are evil.” Or, “God wants women to be subservient to men.” I could go on for a veerrrry long time in this vein, but let’s just let that go.

    If my dog, gazing at my set of encyclopedias, told the other dogs that these holy objects were all about how dogs should be polite and considerate as they go about sniffing each other’s behinds, I think it would make just about as much sense.

    If something is much smarter than us, it lies behind a singularity beyond which we cannot penetrate or, as you said, Fergus, ‘…it is opaque to our perception.’

    So I feel I am a Unitarian not a Dualist. And I believe on faith (and personally experience subjectively (but unprovably)) that there is meaning, purpose, benevolence and intent to existence but I haven’t the slightest clue as to what the source of this may be so I’m not sure that means I would be a theist. Perhaps everything we see is just a virtual simulation left running on a computer by a race long since perished – I have no idea.

  16. fergus says:

    On the first of your two lengthy and intriguing posts, Dennis. Okay, you look at the situation as an example of a zero-sum game. There is nothing wrong in doing this in itself, but I am not strongly convinced by your following comments. There are also other considerations which are not even included in the possibilities you outline.

    The most pertinent comment refers to response 1). You assume that an existence without God must ipso facto be meaningless. I would contend that it is possible to establish a meaning and purpose for our existence without the need to call on a greater directing power. Therefore, life without God is not necessarily meaningless, so it does matter whether or not you choose to believe, because that choice changes the way in which you come to understand the possibility of your meaning.

    Response 2) is also dubious: If we choose to believe and this prevents us from living our lives to the full, which under certain circumstances it most certainly could, then it matters a heck of a lot if we are wrong.

    Response 3) has some issues, but they are not of the moment.

    Response 4) Is an interesting one, as it depends on which God you choose to disbelieve in. If it’s a Christian God, who is omniscient and all-forgiving, then our transgression is irrelevant because, as he is ineffably good by definition, he will forgive us; no good God would punish someone for making a mistake, surely?

    A hard-core humanist (and this isn’t me) would also probably argue that belief in God, being an irrational superstition, tends to lead us into certain assumptions about life and death which make a material difference to the way in which we conduct our lives and the attitude we have to others and their suffering. As such, the humanist would claim that, in failing to apply the principles of reason and recognising that persisting with a superstition is counter-productive, the person of faith is failing to make the most of his life, and may end up damaging the interests of himself or others on the basis of contradictions which arise when faith comes into conflict with reason.

    A most important point to round off comment on this post: in not believing, we do not ‘condemn ourselves to certain pointlessness’. Meaning does not need to depend on the exteriority of a supervisory power. Likewise, believing does not open us to the certainty of meaning.

    I’ll post this then get to your second long post.

    Regards,

  17. fergus says:

    On your second long post. Let me try to expand on the comment about dualism and theism. I say dualistic, because however you cut it, your personal philosophy depends on the assumption that, though it is unprovable, there is a ‘real’ thing which is spirit, and which is distinct from body. This is not a criticism , merely an observation.

    If you agree that this is a characteristic of what you have chosen to believe, then this should help you, as it should clarify in your mind what idea you are trying to address here; the idea that there is something beyond the mere physicality of existence.

    As this is a question which I have been unable as yet to resolve to my own satisfaction, I would not presume to pass judgement on its truth or falsity, except to say that it is not necessarily true, but neither is it necessarily false. I will admit to a tendency towards the view that, if anything beyond the physical does exist, this existence is far more nebulous, uncertain and relative (as opposed to absolute) than we are accustomed to imagining in traditional Western thought.

    I use theistic to refer to the apparent (and this may be a false appearance) desire you express for the existence of an ‘ordering force’. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, this amounts to the belief in a consciousness which transcends the human and is superior to it; in other words, some kind of ‘God’. This is irreducible in the sense that, without it, your beliefs become incoherent. Again, this is an observation, not a criticism, but it is an important decision for you to make, whether to commit to this faith in the ‘transcendent consciousness’ or not.

    I might choose to be cruel about your assertion that everything is part of one thing by saying that this is trivially true, but this isn’t really in the spirit of our discussion or, I think, of your intended meaning. The Unity is the set of all existent things.

    I think my explanation of my use of the term ‘dualist’ before should cover the difference between what you say in this post, which is a response to a different ‘dualism’. OTOH, if you are a Unitarian (not the best word to use- it’s already the name of a group of churches), you have to find a place in which you can explain the concept of living a ‘good’ or ‘worthwhile’ life, as these concepts themselves only have meaning in relation to their contradictory expressions. (Who said this was ever going to be easy?)

    Lastly, the virtual simulation: I recall a couple of months back, Eli Rabett posted a link to that particular argument. It’s a variation of the solepsist’s argument which is no more valid than any other variants, i.e., nonsense. What I feel comfortable in asserting is that what we understand to be real in the physical world is real, and that no other interpretation is consistent or rational. (Don’t ask me to unpack this one, it’s a monster).

    The sixty-four dollar question is whether there is anything real beyond the physically real. That is the one I have no answer to.

    Regards,

  18. MD says:

    One thing to add to this discussion. Dennis and I have alread had a discussion about the Type 1 Type 2 error table he portrays. The issue I have is with rejecting when there is a god = true.

    If there is a god and I reject, what is the consequence of rejecting him? This seems to indicate there is some grand reward/punishment scheme associated with this assessment. If that is the premise, then we are back to my arguement that believing in spirit is biased. You do it out of fear.

    If there is no reward or punishement it simply does not matter which choice you make.

    MD

  19. fergus says:

    Can we go back a few steps? Dennis’s personal philosophy appears to be an effort to address two core questions we humans have been asking for many centuries: firstly; ‘Is there any purpose or meaning to (my) existence?, and secondly; ‘How can I live a ‘good life?’ is this a fair summation?

    Taken from a purely philosophical perspective, we can track the progress of thought on these questions through the history of Western Philosophy, to the current day, when different ‘schools’ have different approaches to the questions and different proposals about possible answers. How do we determine which of these different ideas to ‘privilege’? At some point, we must make a judgement about which best fits our experience and understanding, and our knowledge of the world. From this, we develop a ‘world-view’, which is the way we place our future experience in terms of this general understanding.

    But what criteria should we use to make such judgements? If we make use of a set of values which already belong to one of the world-views already posited (in our cases, it is often Judaeo-Christian), then we are inevitably going to end up with a circular argument at some point.

    Another question might be to wonder whether any relativistic answer is sufficient to our needs/desires. If what we are seeking is a ‘groundedness’ in the ‘moral being’ of human experience, this is difficult, but it is certainly possible.

    The question I would ask both of you, then, is what should/do we count as ‘goodness’, and what should/do we count as ‘meaningfulness’? I suspect that the answer to the one will need to respond to the sense of the other; these two questions can be hard to disentangle from each other.
    Your response?

  20. MD says:

    This is really an opened ended prospect. Part of some outside ongoing discussions I along with Dennis have been involved in are about climate change, Darfour, world hungar, taxation of the poor vs. the Rich. On another scale we have discussed, the ongoing evoltion of the human species and what that means. So I think we need to frame this somehow. I am the most conservative of that group. My views tend to be more caveat emptor, and I am not my brother’s keeper. I would pose that the others are more in line with socialism. Who is right? I don’t think my viewpoint makes me less good or my purpose less meaningful. I think we could start by deciding what goodness and meaningfulness mean? I think I can defend my postion in this, and I am sure Dennis will claim the same. I do not know your views so I can’t say.

    So my question is: in what context are we to have this discussion. Is it Human centric? Is it the environment? Is it a discussion about does it really matter in the scheme of the Universe since man is a relative new comer and on the fringe of the Galaxy, and should he go to extinction, does it matter, especially if it is self imposed?

    We could start back at the beginnig. We drifted to where we are now becuase I made a comment to Dennis about beating his head against a proverbial brick wall in trying to get people to cooperate and do good things for and to each other including the planet. It some how became a deep relgio/philosophical discssion about spirt and the need to follow ones drumbeat.
    So, to start, I am looking for what it is we are trying to tease out in this discussion if anything.

    MD

  21. First of all in case anyone suspects as much, I am NOT the M in question. I basically agree with everything that Dennis says here.

    The way I think about it, the “self” we need to care about is the “self” that includes everyone who lives now or will ever live. Identification with life itself is quite liberating. Anyone feeling a lack of a moral compass ought to give it a try.

    Now, there is an eternal tradeoff between “realism” and “idealism”, but as Bernard Shaw said, all progress is made by unreasonable people.

    Some situations call for compromise, but unalloyed “realism” amounts to capitulation and decadence.

    There is a reason for courage regarding principles.

    Someone recently advocated to me a “pessimism of the intellect but an optimism of the soul”. That is also a nice way to put it.

    We should not be so foolish as to expect that our efforts will turn the tide, but we must hope so and act as if the possibility exists. If we don’t act as if the possibility of a better world exists, the possibility vanishes instantly.

    Tactical compromise has its place, but sometimes it’s not appropriate. Suppose you propose to throw me in a cage with four hungry lions and I object. Suppose you suggest that we split the difference, and that you throw me in a cage with only two hungry lions. Shall I accept this compromise? Will you reject me for an idealistic fool if I continue to object?

  22. Dennis says:

    Oh my, this chain of comments has gotten to a be long and shaggy thing indeed .

    Fergus, on your response to the first of my two – the one wherein I discussed Pascal’s Wager.

    You have extended my perceptions here. I thought quite a bit about your assertion that one can establish meaning and purpose for themselves even in an existence without God. I see that my argument leads to an infinite and unsatisfying chain that says, “I find meaning and purpose in relationship to my perceptions of my deity’s aims but where does my deity find its purpose and meaning…” Unless I posit an infinite chain of ascending purposes, I will come to a place where purpose and meaning arises a-priori and I am busted.

    So, good-on-ya for helping a poor Irishman up the intellectual ladder .

    I went back to consider where I think I see purpose and meaning in existence.

    If I see it, it lies in the interplay of the Second Law of Thermodynamics or Entropy *and* localized systems wherein excess energy exists (such as here on Earth where the sun’s energy provides us a bounty). This excess energy creates the possibility for matter to store energy in the form of organization (read evolution).

    So, in the big picture, most of the universe is running down but in small localized places, complexity is building up. Here life ascends from the simplest self-replicating molecules to complex assemblages that post long strings of symbols on blogs, like ourselves. These complex forms can ponder purpose and meaning and can, themselves, begin to direct how the continuing assemblage of complex forms now proceeds (evolution now beginning to be given over to the evolved).

    Once life reaches self-conscious sentience, I doubt that it will ever give it up freely. And thus, so long as localized energy excess areas exist or can be generated, life will endure until the Second Law finally wins at some very distant point in the future (unless the folks like Paul Steinhardt, who posit an eternally oscillating universe, are correct).

    So, it is here that I think I see purpose. It is here that I choose one side of the game over the other. It is here that I am prejudice and biased – since I am life. And so my purpose is to aid the progress of complexity and increasing awareness and intelligence and to oppose all that which would pull it down. I can see no higher purpose in existence.

    Now, does this chain of thought require Spirit or a creator? No, I don’t think so nor do I think it precludes one either. It may just be how the universe is and how it works. It may be a universe that just is.

    But, we come full circle here again, I believe, because at this level nothing can be proved. If I choose, on faith, to believe that there is intention behind how existence works or if I do not, I see these two choices as equally valid since neither is provable.

    When we are a child, most of us experience the adults in our world as higher beneficent beings. They understand existence better than we do and they guide us into our own adulthoods. But, since we are the highest evolved form on this planet, we arrive in our adulthoods with nothing higher to trust in to guide us (unless you are a poor Republican creature and trust the Bush family ). It is easy to think we are the summit of creation then and to feel that the idea of a higher beneficent guiding power is an illusion the weak cling to. But, there are likely millions of intelligent species who have gone before us in this universe. And as their complexity and intelligence exceeds ours, it is very likely that they are well beyond that singularity that prevents us from having any real grasp of them and their purposes – save that they are more advanced than ours.

    So now, to make a bit of a jump. And this is purely me taking my own idea of what the highest purpose I can see in existence is (opposing entropy) and extending it out and assuming that beings higher than myself will have come to similar conclusions though where they may have carried on after that is quite beyond me.

    I assume (a-priori of course) that higher beings will be dedicated to promoting the increase of complexity, awareness and intelligence in existence and that this tendency will extend upwards through the continuum of advanced beings perhaps even into realms wherein their consciousness has freed itself from the constraint of being joined to matter in favor of organized energy? I don’t know – this is serious hot-air and conjecture here.

    But, the real point is that I see the possibility of beneficence in existence that is so far beyond us – that we might as well call it God or Gods.

    I can see the problem in thinking that such entities may have created all of existence because we then get into the circular problem of where did they come from then? And then where did the ones before them come from and so on.

    All of that is simply to far away and too abstract to be meaningful to me. I am interested in whether or not higher beneficence exists or not. And while I think it does, I cannot prove it so I am comfortable to make an a-priori leap of faith that it does.

    And that is all quite comfortable to me until I find myself pursued down these intellectual alley ways by a rabid pack of hard-core humanist rationalists dogs baying for my dared-to-make-an-a-priori-assumption blood .

  23. Dennis says:

    Fergus, with reference to your response to my second foray:

    I’m not sure that I believe in discrete states or definitions such as dualism or theism. I often see mankind’s understandings of how nature works as proceeding through three general stages that I call numeric, algebraic and calculus.

    In the first (numeric) state, we believe in fixed values such as when DNA was postulated as the vessel of replication information. In the second or algebraic stage, we see that there are multiple ways that replication information is dealt with by nature (RNA snippets, Ribosomes and their genetic contents, etc.) and we can even come up with algebraic equations that show their relative contributions under various conditions. And in the third stage we come to the fullest and most accurate understanding of how it actually all works which is that all of our imaginings of discrete states are bogus and that all of these systems which handle replication information smoothly flow one into the other seamlessly just as a billion water molecules can all find their way downhill by a billion paths.

    So, how does this relate to our discussion? Unity is everything and duality is what we have when we divide any of the unity into arbitrary ‘parts’. Both are real in some sense and both are the same thing in some sense. In fact, if you try to wrestle with these ideas with words, after awhile you will become dissatisfied with words because they are creatures of the dualistic side only and cannot capture the entire thing.

    We think existence has sharp edges but we cannot find the electron. We think that the laws are immutable but no one can say what they do beyond the event horizon. The mystics speak of the insights gleaned from seeing existence as a unity but how can they carry anything to us in buckets made of words?

    On one end is matter dead and cold without awareness or consciousness and somewhere midway between there and the other end are we who are matter which has evolved until consciousness and awareness have emerged from it. And further down that same road? We are those who’ve never left our small village so we scoff at stories of New York City and skyscrapers. But in truth, we do not know.

    I wrote a piece here about the limits of what we know that may be of interest: http://samadhisoft.com/index.php?page_id=103

    I am not a Unitarian and I do not believe in duality. These are numeric or at best algebraic ideas. I want to see it all at once in full flow.

    We are here in a small place and in this place, we think things make sense of a sort. But just over there…smaller than the Plank length or bigger than the Universe, or faster than the speed of light or colder than absolute zero or before the big bang or after the expansion has ripped the last molecules apart – just over there, we can’t say anything.

    We don’t know if there’s purpose and meaning outside of what we create. We don’t know what these questions might look like if we were 10,000 years on from where we are now. We try to box in ideas far bigger than ourselves with dualistic words and string and wind them in intricate patterns that test our small abilities to understand what we’re saying – and we imagine that these small efforts have somehow taken us up to the edge of the real questions rather than just to the edge of the firelight in our small provincial village. And in the darkness that lies beyond, stretching far beyond what we can even imagine, lies a thousand things well beyond the ability of our minds or words to grasp.
    —————-
    And the end and the beginning were always there
    Before the beginning and after the end.
    And all is always now. Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still.

    TS Eliot
    —————–

    Fergus, you said, “What I feel comfortable in asserting is that what we understand to be real in the physical world is real, and that no other interpretation is consistent and rational.”

    I would assert that in an existence where the final fact is the unity of everything, that our attempts to understand it through the inevitable dualism of words and concepts is bound to leave us eternally part way.

    I think we can’t know, even though we want to. And so, by a-priori acts we each devise our best explanations and consider that the more convoluted and complex they are, the closer they must be to some ultimate truth.

    In the end, you said, “The sixty-four dollar question is whether there is anything real beyond the physically real. That is the one I have no answer to.”

    Nor I. And I still contend that anything we choose to say or believe about it, is an act of faith – all equally justified or unjustified.

  24. Dennis says:

    MD,

    As regards your point about the Type 1 Type 2 error table and making a choice.

    You contend that one opts to believe in Spirit out of fear. This is a glass half-empty or glass half full thing we’re on about here. It’s a ‘people are innocent until proven guilty’ or ‘guilty until proven innocence’ symmetry.

    If you posit God exists, yes you may choose to believe in God out of fear but just as certainly you may choose to believe in God because you think whatever he or she’s up to is probably the best game in town and you want to get on board.

    People say that for a carpenter, every solution involves a hammer.

    Have you considered that for a fear-based person, every solution might involve a fear?

  25. Dennis says:

    Fergus, you asked, “…what should/do we count as ‘goodness’, and what should/do we count as ‘meaningfulness’? I suspect that the answer to the one will need to respond to the sense of the other; these two questions can be hard to disentangle from each other.”

    This is definitely more along the line of what I’d prefer to discuss since I think the deeply analytical questions too soon bog us down in the dualistic limitations of words.

    I think I’ve already answered this earlier in another context. To me, the rise of complexity, awareness and intelligence in zones of excess energy is the GOOD. I am biased and I choose this trend over entropy because I am alive and I know I am alive because of this trend. Circular I know, but it is the best I can do. I measure meaning and purpose by the same arbitrary yardstick.

    Now, I haven’t said anything here about Spirit because it hasn’t been a requirement. The interplay between entropy and arising complexity may very well just be the way it works without any supernatural mojo required.

    Personally, I do go farther though because it pleases me to live in an existence in which I believe *that* which is smarter than me is beneficent.

    Ironically, I am reminded here of the anthropological studies that revealed that each culture’s idea of God was simply the best that they could conceive of among themselves and then with a bit more added on for good measure. Thus, if they were a warrior people, their God was a better warrior than any of them had ever seen. So my God may just be a slightly better version of the person I’d like to be.

    Oh well – how embarrassing.

  26. Dennis says:

    This is in response to MD’s comment that begins, “This is really an opened ended prospect.”

    MD, I think your comment here is right on the money. You ask what is goodness and how should it affect our decisions, if I understand you right.

    As I’ve said, I think that the ascension of matter towards higher and higher levels of complexity, awareness and intelligence through the storage of excess energy as organization is what I choose to align myself with as THE GOOD. Arbitrary, I admit, but, apparently, the only other game in town is the dissolution of organization and the extinction of consciousness – and I prefer not to go there.

    So, when I look at social systems like Capitalism, Socialism and etc., I’m always judging them with regards to whether or not they tend to promote the ascension or degrade it.

    On this planet, as we are streaming full-bore into a major environmental crisis, these questions are of critical importance, I believe.

    But, in the universe at large, I doubt, as I think you do, that all of what happens on this one planet has any import at all.

    I would prefer to not see the complexity that’s evolved here on Earth torn down because of one species’ technological and sociological immaturity. I also believe that any other intelligent species in the universe which have evolved past where we are would also hold this idea as an obvious good (I can’t prove it, however, so don’t ask me to).

    I think that once life gets to a certain point and crosses the threshold where the control of evolution begins to be given over to the evolved, there is a desperate race between its tendencies to destroy itself through immaturity and its tendency to wake up and realize that it has to honor and conserve complexity, awareness and intelligence as being in its own best interests.

    I believe we are very much at that point now.

    And when I am doing what you call ‘beating my head against the wall’, I am doing what I think most of us need to do if we are going to have any hope of getting past what E.O. Wilson calls “The Bottleneck”. It doesn’t matter to me if I will succeed or not. According to what I think is the highest GOOD, it is right, in and of itself and needs no further justification.

  27. Dennis says:

    Michael Tobis, thanks for your comments. I think you and I think a lot alike.

  28. fergus says:

    Hmm… the rise of complexity, awareness and intelligence, plus a possible ‘excess energy’.

    If I was inclined towards existential phenomenology, I might suggest that what you are describing here precisely is your idealised human being. So you’d be right about proposing the best you could think of and the a bit more… 🙂

    Is this any more than a description of ‘consciousness’, though? If so, you end up making the claim (in another version), that being-human whilst wishing to transcend the limit of being-human is the highest goal. Now that is phenomenology, a la Levinas…

    But I suspect you want it to mean more than this, not least because it implies that we have already reached an evolutionary ‘peak’. It is possible, though, to construct a philosophy of meaning and purpose simply from this starting point; that humanity which strives to overcome its limitations is the first knowable form of goodness. If it turns out that this is in tune with the intention of another order of being which already has transcended its limits and gone beyond, then this is convenient, but, being unknowable, is it any use to posit such an idea, if the previous idea serves the purpose, which is to provide the grounds for a life which is good?

    As you say… a long string of thoughts. Perhaps I’ll go to bed now…

  29. MD says:

    Dennis,

    Not true. You pin your hopes on this “spirit” providing blessings and benefits if you believe. This implies that there is something withheld if you do not. So you go that route because of the fear of not getting your plate full. However, if spirit is benevolent, than whether you believe or not is irrelevant. Spirit will not withhold anything no matter your choice. So, why should I burden myself with believing in an intangible that on the one had dishes out rewards and punishment based upon my free will to make a choice in what I choose to accept. If it works this way, then what is the point of free will, since there is no manual that provides the rules. And your reward punishment is arbitrary at best.

    In my scheme, if it does exist, it does not dole out rewards and punishment on my best guess attempts to figure out how to make sacrifices at the alter. Ergo your truth table only works if you have a reward punishment scheme attached to it.

    MD

  30. […] then belonging to the Church), is reawakened. Following the sinuous but rewarding dialogues on Samadhisoft, it occurred to me that this is, at base, a question of whether we see the world from a rationalist […]

  31. MD says:

    How about a different twist. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Whether your are a super intellect, average Joe, or a below average Joe, one thing is for sure; if you are really down and out, have no money, and no one to turn to, you are at the bottom. When there, I really doubt you are very interested in anything beyond your next meal and surviving the day. (In reality, much of the world is in this situation or near it.)

    However, once you start climbing up the latter, what you really want is to establish a safe and secure environment in which you can do the things you enjoy.

    In my opinion, what really motivates humans to do the so called good things that my dear colleagues allude to in this string, is that in-bedded in each of us is a knowledge that if we do not establish a code to live by, that will enable them to continue to enjoy the safe and secure environment they have established, everything falls apart. (Actually animals do a similar thing.) So, they for the most part will be peaceful, orderly and actually help each other out because these actions sustain that comfortable environment. This is really selfish behavior but necessary to maintain the malm (Dennis should remember this from a short story he turned me on to years ago,)

    By the way, this is a very thin line that can unravel very quickly. I really got a good glimpse of what can happen from watching an otherwise very bad movie. That would be the latest version of “War of the Worlds” with Tom Cruz. There is a part in the movie that takes place at a ferry crossing. If you did not see it, that clip is well worth watching. It really shows the dog eat dog selfish nature of people when things begin to get ugly.

    The next step in all of this is an active brain with time to think about things. This leads to questions such as: Why are we here? How did I get here? Are there things beyond this level of intellect? and so on. Now several things can affect the outcome of this inquiry, Other people can bias the individual (religion, cults, gangs, philosophers etc.). If the individual is not careful and astute, or too young or too stupid, he will be hijacked along his path. If you doubt this, get in to an argument with a devout Muslim, a born again Christian, or a young college philosophy major. You have very little hope of changing their beliefs. they only wait for you to finish what ever you have to say so they can deliver the truth to you, at least the truth as the believe it. They very rarely even consider what you have to say. Sorry, I digress due to a lack of patience for this portion of society.

    Now maybe the individual does not get hijacked, but just runs out of energy to explore the possibilities. In this case, in my opinion, he just gives up and says its all because of God, spirit or the like. He is comfortable because he has closure and there are added benefits, here. They also gain a new imaginary friend or friends. Unfortunately, they can also become extremely pious and self righteous. Some might even argue they are extremely happy because they understand their higher calling and have given 100%. People falling in this category need to spend some time in therapy or at lease do some serious self examination.

    This leaves us with the final group who refuse to surrender. Some of them just don’t care about these things. Some care, but find the idea about a super duper supreme being to be just to ridiculous to accept. If for no other reason than a simple inquire about how it get here makes it an infinite loop with no hope of escape. I suppose there may be yet another group that continues to search until the light dims and then extinguishes all together.

    Hum, one day I must stop and thing about which group I find myself occupying.

    I now fast forward to discuss meaning and purpose for the non believer. I have been hit so many times with the argument that how can there be meaning to your life if things are just because they are and there is really nothing behind it but pure random chance. Well guess what not only can there be meaning, there is also purpose. Suppose one likes to garden or play music, or sing, or dance, or paint or takes on one or more of the myriad of other things that can occupy the mind and body for a life time. If one devotes himself to these ambitions, then one will find both meaning and purpose in life. Even if it is merely a rush from having other people say, did you really write that, or did you paint that, or how did you learn to play the violin like that. Also, these people have feelings, can love, hate, be generous, stingy, sympathetic, and down right nice. I guess the only thing they can’t be is a republican in this current environment. However, that does not make them a Democrat by default. Sorry Dennis.

    So in summary, One does not need spirit or god to be happy and feel fulfilled. Both goodness and meaningfulness are actually selfish traits; nevertheless necessary if we are to stay at the top of the pyramid. Lastly, it all falls apart if we don’t spend the energy to establish and enforce a set of standards, ethics, and laws that are clear an unambiguous. These need to be the bare minimum so as not to entrap people, but to assure society that getting out of bounds will not be tolerated.

    Sorry, it is not in my nature to end with “be loved”. On this I agree with your wife Fergus.

    So, how about “Be selfish is a kind and gentle way”.

    MD

  32. Dennis says:

    MD,

    That’s one of the better pieces I’ve seen you write. Excellent stuff. Maslow’s Heirarchy, the Rule of Law, and how folks decide they know and quit their inquiries. It’s all good stuff.

    This string of comments has been very rewarding for me. It reminds me of any number of late night discussions with friends in college. There, everything was fair game and the goal usually was to come to deeper understandings of the world we lived in.

    I’ve been thinking the last day or so to go back through these 31 or so comments and see if I can isolate what was key for me out of all of it. I find that these discussions are like a search algorithm; they wander far and wide but, in the end, one or two critical minima or maxima are uncovered and make it all worth it.