Viewing blog entries in category: Religion and Philosophy - Page 2
Nothingness = a closed spherical spacetime of zero radius
Can you imagine nothingness? Right now I am reading a book titled, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective story. About halfway through the book, I came across a wonderful passage. The author, Jim Holt, speaks with physicist Alex Vilenkin about the difficulty in imagining sheer nothingness. Vilken helps make this possible with a thought experiment: Imagine spacetime as the surface of a sphere. Now suppose that this sphere is shrinking, like a balloon that is losing air. The radius grows smaller and smaller. Eventually—try to imagine this—the radius goes all the way to zero. The surface of the sphere disappears completely, and with it spacetime itself. We have arrived at nothingness. We have also arrived at a precise definition of nothingness: a closed spacetime of zero radius. This is the most complete and utter nothingness that scientific concepts can capture. It is mathematically not only devoid of stuff but also of location and duration.
With this characterization in hand, Vilenkin was able to do an interesting calculation. Using the principles of quantum theory, he showed that, out of an initial state of nothingness, a tiny bit of energy-filled vacuum could spontaneously “tunnel” into existence. How tiny would this bit of vacuum be? Perhaps as little as one hundreth-trllionth of a centimeter. But that, it turns out, is good enough for cosmogonic purposes. Driven by the negative pressure of “inflation,” this bit of energetic vacuum would undergo a runaway expansion. In a couple of microseconds it would attain cosmic proportions, issuing in a cascading fireball of light and matter—the Big Bang!
Ted Talk: Jim Holt: Why Does the Universe Exist?
*Update ~ After a hiatus, I returned to the site and have been welcomed back with warmth and kindness. I realized that in many ways, the posters there were simply responding to my gangbusters approach. I learned that less ego and more humility works wonders... at least in this case, it did.
Every once in a while, I leave the safe boundaries of my journal and venture elsewhere to express myself. And although I gain beneficial insights and learn much during these outings, I return with my core intact. I remain true to myself—authentic.
Two months ago, I began interacting on a forum that is predominately comprised of western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. I stumbled upon this community, as did others, after linking to it from an article published in The New York Times.
It was a strange experience. I was a stranger in a strange land—an outsider trespassing on sacred ground. I was never accepted into this community. Did I want to be? Yes, I suppose I did. But at the same time, I knew that I never would be—not as long as I spoke openly and honestly about my skeptic and atheist views. Should I have been surprised that I actually inspired hate in people who claim to hold compassion and kindness to be the most important virtues to behold? Probably not—but I am. Although there were three or four considerate members, the vast majority of the Buddhists behaved quite inhospitable—troll-like, intolerant, closed-minded, tribal, dogmatic, mean, and egocentric. It was odd—not at all what I expected to come across in a Buddhist community. You may think that they were just a bunch of poseurs. But I don’t think they believe they are. They think they are the real deal.
So what did I learn from this experience? I learned that you can take the deity out of Buddhism, but you still have all the problems of a religion. Make no mistake, Buddhism, as practiced today by most westerners, is not a philosophy, it is a religion. It is dogmatic, hierarchical, ritualistic, superstitious, tribalistic, and sexist. And Buddhism is no more hospitable with science than the Abrahamic religions. Though, for some reason, the adherents are obsessed with having others regard it as such. Buddhism will never be seen as a reasonable philosophy—conducive with scientific principles and a naturalistic worldview—until it ditches the supernatural beliefs. And Buddhists will never be authentic until they see that they too have egos—on full display—just like the rest of us.
Tonight I close the door behind me as I say goodbye to my reluctant foster Buddhist community. Because I now realize that it wasn't meant to be—it wasn't a good fit. It wasn't right for them, and it wasn't right for me.
Why do philosophers use abstract words to describe abstract concepts? I'm not absolutely certain, but I have some theories.
Here is an example of writing by philosopher, Michel Bitbol:
"The metaphysical translation of this process of isolation of certain “subjective” statements with respect with the other types of statements is either dualism or reductionism: dualism if one projects the two-realms organization of statements onto a two-realms organization of entities or properties; or reduction of subjectivity to a network of objective entities if one takes the criticism of experiential expressions on objective grounds as a sign of subordination of the former to the latter. But if one looks back at the whole cognitive process by which the two-realms organization of statements was established, it clearly appears that the very alternative of dualism and reductionism is flawed. Indeed, at the first stages of the process, there is simply no clear-cut distinction between the two realms."
OK, now be honest, can you understand the meaning of this after reading it once? How about after two times? Three? Four? Do you think you could ever possibly understand it? Would a dictionary help you decipher the hidden meaning? Or, would you need to pay upwards of $4,000 to sit in a classroom and have a philosophy professor explain it to you?
How insulting is this to our intelligence? Why do the folks in the ivory tower purposely write to confuse us little people on the ground? Is it a form of gatekeeping? Are they obscuring knowledge on purpose to deny us access? Or is what they are writing not even knowledge at all but just a bunch of mumbo jumbo? How are we to know the difference? These people are getting paid big bucks to think for us. Do you suppose it's possible that they sometimes fall asleep on the job? Perhaps there are times when the well runs dry and they need to produce something. So they concoct some abstract opus of BS and sell it as profound wisdom. Make no mistake, this type of writing is an art form. It takes real talent to construct unrecognizable and unintelligible writing that can pass as actual prose.
Want to write like a philosopher? Here are some handy guidelines:
Prefer a complex word whenever possible. See, I just did it myself in that sentence. I used the word prefer rather than the word use. I gave my sentence an abstract spin.
Use complex words even when they are not essential.
Cluster abstract words together to really sound vague and unclear.
Use complex words to set up barriers to understanding.
Avoid clarity at all times.
Only write using jargon. If it could be published in The New York Times, then it isn't sufficiently cryptic.
Keep in mind, that you don't want your reader to know exactly what you mean. Unspecific words keep the reader from conjuring up a picture in his or her mind.
And lastly, even when the abstract word adds nothing to the meaning, keep it there. Never simplify. Complex is your mantra.
Ontological questions: What is my world and what is it made of? What is consciousness? What is it made of?
First and foremost, I am an atheist, which simply means that I deny that a god or gods exist. Secondly, I am a metaphysical naturalist. I believe that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences—those required to understand our physical environment by mathematical modeling. Thirdly, I am an existentialist. I believe existence precedes essence. This of course is a materialist position—a position consistent with my metaphysical naturalist and atheist identities. To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because, in the beginning, a human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. Therefore karma, as defined by Buddhists, is not real. In other words, we are not born with a preexisting set of past actions, or energy, etc. We are born baggage free. Our essence begins at conception then continues to be shaped throughout our lives by our genes, environments, and experiences. And when we die, our essence dies. Every part of our being, including our consciousness—which is, after all, only an emergent property of a brain—is extinguished for good. Nothing continues on and we are never reborn into another body. There is no mind-body distinction. Thus, reincarnation is not possible and there is no such thing as rebirth.
As a materialist/existentialist, I believe that consciousness is awareness, particularly self-awareness, the uniquely human ability to "introspect" onto what is going on in our own mind. Also, consciousness entails having a sense of personal identity, a self-concept, which includes our thoughts, feelings, and memories.
If we are in a persistent vegetative state, we are no longer conscious. Our brains may continue to fire, but we have lost access to our thoughts, feelings, and memories. We are just material without self-awareness. We are merely sentient beings—organisms capable of sensing. Thus, life has lost meaning. If we were to die, our body would dissolve and decay, but our consciousness would have already been long gone. We get one chance and that's it. And although reincarnation maybe appear to offer a wonderful solution to the problem of mortality, it simply isn't real—it's wishful thinking.
But karma—or the idea of cause and effect—is something I don't wholly reject, if allowed to interpret it a bit differently from Buddhism's definition. I may not believe that my actions will affect me in a future life, but I do believe that my present actions have a direct bearing on my future in this lifetime. If I do something that I feel ashamed about, I will implant a negative seed in my mind. This will affect how I act and relate to others. My negative past action, thus, causes me to have a negative experience in my future. And my actions in this lifetime will continue to have an effect after my physical death. Think about the shooter in Colorado. His actions will cause pain, fear, and anguish etc. for decades to come—possibly forever—in the collective conscious. Also, one's actions can create a meme that will shape culture in the future. For example, Einstein’s actions—his scientific discoveries—have changed the course of history—literally—for all humanity. His actions have influenced science, religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, art etc. Each of us leaves footprints. So in a unique sense, we are immortal.
Does karma necessitate belief in reincarnation?
I don't think you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater i.e. reject karma along with reincarnation—at least not my version of karma. Because, my version operates within one life cycle—multiple lifetimes are not necessary. Our actions can and do affect one another. And they affect our own future—even if it is just a short, one time presence here on earth. And our actions can and do have an effect upon all the future lifetimes of all others who are yet to be born. This is a wonderful notion—that we do in fact count. Our life has meaning and continues to have meaning even after we die. It is an awareness of this connectedness that makes one realize that our lives matter. And that there is great value to be found in our relationships with one another. Life is not futile and meaningless just because it is short and ends. Existentialism isn’t nihilistic after all. We don't need to believe in reincarnation to have a meaningful life. And, knowing that we are all connected gives us a great reason to act ethically and to have a moral set of principles to follow. Morality can and does exist outside religion.
Of course, others beg to differ.
Monistic idealism holds that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being. It is monist because it holds that there is only one type of thing in the universe and idealist because it holds that one thing to be consciousness. Matter does not exist. And, if only mind exists, then consciousness is independent of the physical/material human body. And thus, karma and reincarnation are possible as explained by Buddhism's doctrine of dependent arising.
Epistemological questions: How do I know what reality is? How do I know if consciousness is material or other?
Some scientists and philosophers are rejecting our current methods for studying consciousness because they claim that they do not allow for the possibility to prove that experience does not derive from a material basis.
Michel Bitbol, a researcher focusing on the philosophy of mind and consciousness, argues for a new science—a new way of knowing—a new epistemological model for answering ontological questions. He rejects the current methodology employed by mainstream neuroscientists and physicists.
Bitbol's position is strongly antireductionist, "...objectivity is no longer the ultimate standard of method. In the alternative stance, the standard of being is underpinned by a standard of self-evidence, and the methodological standard of objectivity is expanded into a more general standard of intersubjectivity."
One day, Bitbol may get his wish, and we may have a better model for doing scientific research and answering questions about the natural world. But for now, subjective experiences and philosophical arguments are not going to qualify as "evidence/proof." And, utilizing our current methods of research, it doesn't seem probable that we will discover that consciousness is independent of the brain. Will a new methodology open the door to this possibility? Is methodology acting like a gatekeeper? Some philosophers and scientists, including Bitbol, believe it is.
As it stands, we don't know if consciousness survives death or precedes life. We may one day have the scientific tools to answer these questions. Until then, Buddhism’s karma is an article of faith. That is why it is a belief within a religious context and not a scientific law. I am a skeptic, so I doubt that karma exists because there is no proof/evidence to suggest that it does. But if one day evidence were to surface, then I'd get on board. Until then, I'm putting my faith in traditional science to frame reality—to answer ontological questions using current scientific methods.
Jim Holt Discussion With Charlie Rose: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
What is a naturalistic worldview? Nobody explains it more eloquently and simply than Richard Dawkins. His book The Magic of Reality sits at the top of my list of favorite books that I have read so far this year. Although it was written for children, it is by no means void of insightful and detailed descriptions and explanations about the natural world and how we know what reality is. I learned a great deal from this book. So it is appropriate for an adult reader as well. Listen to the first chapter of the book here. For the best experience, download or open the file and listen with VLC media player.
Here are some amusing quotes/statements that I shoplifted from The Skeptic's Dictionary online:
You're codependent for sure if, when you die,
someone else's life flashes in front of your eyes.
Seventy-two percent of people think that we use only 10 percent of our brain capacity, which proves that 72% of people are wasting the 10% of their brain that's working.
My Favorite Skeptic Trumps:
"...I am not so much an atheist as an anti-theist. I am, in other words, not one of those unbelievers who wishes that they had faith, or that they could believe. I am, rather, someone who is delighted that there is absolutely no persuasive evidence for the existence of any of mankind's many thousands of past and present deities."
~ Christopher Hitchens
Be forewarned, this is gonna come off as mean and bitchy.
When I hear someone declare that s/he is spiritual but not religious, my eyes roll a bit--OK they spin fast. This is how that statement translates to an atheist: You are choosing to sugarcoat your irrational belief system. You find your position to be a reasonable, enlightened, and liberating stance against organized religion which you think is antiquated, paternalistic, and sexist. You don't want to have to go to church, pay a tithe, nor abstain from premarital coitus. And yet, you want to make it clear to those who may doubt your piety, that make no mistake about it, you are in fact a believer. You believe in God, a higher power, and a supernatural deity. Perhaps you even believe in a soul, karma, and an afterlife. You might even go one step further and profess than God is you and you are God. Heck, God is in everything and everywhere. (That's truly intense, btw.) You are spirituality aware. In touch. In tune. Happening. You are progressive. You are a step beyond.
Unfortunately all your wisdom fails you. For you cannot see that your claim to be spiritual but not religious is analogous to being weaned from the bottle yet still sucking your thumb.
Claiming to be "spiritual" makes you appear infantile, needy, dependent upon a father/mother figure--unable to cut the cord and mature and become a self-sufficient, freethinking adult. You aren't kidding anyone. Well, perhaps you are. Not me anyhow. To be honest, I'd respect you a helluva lot more if you said you were religious, went to church, paid a tithe, and practiced the rhythm method. At least you would be an authentic believer instead of a half-committed poseur.
Claiming to be spiritual instead of religious does not make you sound superior. All it makes you is diluted/deluded.
*Update January 12, 2012 ~ The author of the blog Camels With Hammers conducted a 24 hour blogathon yesterday. During this time he responded to questions from readers. I asked him what his thoughts on existentialism are? He provided a very detailed analysis of the faults he finds with adopting the existentialist label. Though he has a PhD in philosophy and I am just the holder of a bachelor's of sociology degree, I am not convinced to accept his position. I think he is correct on many levels. But I don't think his solutions account for the never-been churched atheists out there, such as myself, who aren't attempting to deprogram themselves from one of the monotheistic religions that dominate American culture. What if one never belonged to a community of believers nor practiced religious rituals? What if one was never directly indoctrinated to accept a moral code derived from the Abrahamic religious texts? What if being existentialist doesn't necessitate one to be a nihilist? One can still believe life can have meaning and value and that some actions can be judged to be better than others. God isn't necessary in order for a reasonable moral code to exist. Humans can and do create good values and ethics using common sense such as applying the Golden Rule. We don't need some supernaturally imposed morality; we can derive it from within ourselves as living social beings driven by our genetic makeup to act cooperatively and civil with one another because we need each other in order to survive both as individuals and as a society? I think Dan agrees with this point but can't separate nihilism from existentialism, for some reason. Maybe I can because I was never taught to put the two together in the first place. My ignorance may be my blessing. And so, I still argue this metaphysical paradigm works for some of us. E is for existentialism; it's good enough for me.
Scroll down to bottom to read my post asking about existentialism. Then follow the link to read Dan's reply.)*
Just stumbled upon an extremely well-written, original, persuasive, and thought-provoking essay by an atheist philosophy professor named Daniel Fincke, who writes a blog titled Camels With Hammers. Read entire essay "My Goals As An Atheist Writer" HERE, first. Then see my commentary below.
Though I agree with much of what Daniel writes, I take issue with these statements:
"The alternative to developing robust atheistic religions is to leave the alternative to be the benefits of integrating life the way religions can vs. the threat of a fractured, disoriented life as an atheist. Some current atheists get this and want robust replacements for religion. A significant portion of us are so burned on the abusive forms of religion wed to all the awfulness I’ve listed above that they have an understandably knee jerk reflex against anything that even smells like a religion. Other atheists I think are partially atheists because it was their anti-communal and/or hyper-intellectual temperaments that made it relatively easy for them to break with religion and its emphases on group-based development of values and practices.
If atheists are to really broaden our ranks beyond the base of those who are smart enough to be unable to believe and those who are individualistic enough to have no use for group-developed values, we really need to offer the average person—i.e., that person of average intellect and average sociability, who for very good, highly evolutionarily selected reasons, wants to turn to institutions and authorities for guidance in values and practice and philosophy—something more robust than "“think for yourself, learn science, visit atheist blogs, and stop believing all bullshit even when it’s bound up with practices and beliefs that give your life a powerful sense of orientation!”"
I am this type of atheist: "...anti-communal and/or hyper-intellectual temperament that made it relatively easy for me to break with religion (or never join one) and its emphases on group-based development of values and practices." And so, I don't have a need for the rituals and community found through religious affiliation. However, the author argues that religion is needed by the masses, and therefore, atheists must replace traditional religions with atheistic ones or our ranks will be limited to loners and highly-intelligent people such as ourselves. Isn't this a wee bit condescending? Not to me of course; I'm not one of average intelligence nor sociability who is programmed through evolution to need religion. Nature skipped me when handing out the hard-wiring. I'm special. I'm a part of the 1%. Kidding. Sort of.
Seriously though, this sounds like the opiate for the masses maxim e.g. the people need their religion to give them guidance, purpose, and morality. Without it they are lost and find life void of meaning. This may be true. Perhaps the simpletons out there need religion. And us uber-sharp folks don't. Does this mean I should advocate the creation of an atheistic religion to fill the void that will be left once deity-dependent, supernaturally-infused, patriarchal, authoritarian, racist, homophobic, tribalistic, nationalistic religions are obliterated? Why can't existentialism fill the void? Too depressing? No rituals? No community? No ethics? Perhaps some people can't be the conductors of their own lives and do need leaders to follow, rules to adhere to, and rituals to practice. It is a lot of mental work to be a freethinker. It's much easier to simply follow the herd.
~ From update January, 12, 2012
I’d be interested in your thoughts on existentialism. It seems it gets a bad wrap by both the philosophical community and the public at large.
I understand that you are a Nietzschean scholar. Apparently he never called himself an existentialist. I am not versed enough on Nietzsche to know whether or not I would regard him to be one or not. I only mention this to inform you that my interest in existentialism isn’t tied to his writings.
Existentialism is my metaphysical paradigm. I think that we are born, live as physical beings on earth, and then die. That’s it. There is no god, karma, nor fate that has predestined our life’s purpose. We are free to choose our life’s course. Of course the environment and genetics will limit our agency.
Therefore, we must give our lives meaning. Perhaps we can find it through the connections we have with our fellow beings or through creating art, music, or literature.
This philosophy is enough for me. It can be bleak but it is the only one I’ve come across that makes sense to me. All others encompass leaps of faith and wishful thinking.
Why don’t more atheists adopt the existentialist label? After all, atheism isn’t a philosophy, creed, nor belief system. You advocate an atheistic religion. Why not advocate atheistic existentialism? We don’t all need rituals, community, and moral codes to be connected to our metaphysical belief system. At least I don’t.
Is it possible that most self-described atheists don’t even realize that existentialism is an option?
Against Atheist Existentialism
~ An appreciation of the enlightened wit and wisdom of the French philosopher Voltaire ~
Brief bio: François-Marie Arouet ( 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state. Voltaire was a prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poetry, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship laws with harsh penalties for those who broke them. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma and the French institutions of his day. Source
Prejudices are what fools use for reason.
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do.
It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.
If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.
The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.
Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.
If Christians want us to believe in a Redeemer, let them act redeemed.
The more I read, the more I meditate; and the more I acquire, the more I am enabled to affirm that I know nothing.
Common sense is not so common.
One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.
Death is everywhere and nowhere.
Death's a predator and no one is spared. Natural disasters and wars are taking the lives of millions. We are bombarded by one catastrophe and conflict after another--in rapid succession--without time to recover before we're assaulted by another. It's crisis overload.
And death is unrecognizable--a nothingness--a failure to exist. Death has no meaning to the dead. All we can say is that death is not life, but nothing else. Death is a void. We can't know what it is, only what it's not. Much like atheism, it is a refutation of the affirmative. Death has no meaning outside of life. And atheism has no meaning without the assertion of god.
Life however, is full of riches to behold--a treasure chest of experiences, stocking the mind with a vast wealth of memories that we can recollect and reflect upon, time and time again. We value our memories deeply; they give our life a historical narrative that serves as the foundation for meaning to take hold. We guard them with our life--until time comes knocking--taking us and our memories to the grave. Thus, our memories join our bones in the underground--buried forever. Or in the case of cremation, scattered as dust in the wind--never to be rebound.
In the space between birth and demise lies the existential crisis. If you are among the godless you will bear a great burden--the belief that there is no god who will lovingly guide you through life's end nor supply you with a future plan.You're on your own kid.
Without self-soothing illusions--otherwise known as prayer and a ticket to heaven--to give life an innate purpose, you must construct your own meaning. Because suffering is inevitable, joy is paramount. Life is good when pleasure trumps pain.
Heaven is a lie. This life is all there is. And dying really sucks because no matter how gritty and grim and burdensome and dim--full of struggle and pain--life is, it is still something to embrace. Ceasing to exist in any form again--forever--means you've been erased. Death doesn't check you into a better place. Rather, it promises a cold hard resting space. A lot of people believe in an after-existence. But their beliefs--no matter how strong they are--can't turn falsehood into truth.
You will resist, of course. But in the end, death will insist. Until then, you devise a list of all the things you want to do before you die. Because your life is your one time only chance to shine, you might as well make the most of it. At least you will have truly lived.
Here's my (kick the) Bucket List ~ So Far:
Go to London
Become a grandmother
Publish a book
Have my art displayed in public areas
Have a love affair with Keanu Reeves (Update 5/19/11 : We all need to dream a little. )
Find a best friend
Be free of regret
Drive a racing boat
Page 2 of 2