November 12, 2014

Epistemic Roundabout II


A CRACK IN CHINA'S ATHEIST EDIFICE?

The best thing the Chinese government is doing is not cracking down on Christianity. Cracking down would tie Christianity to the struggle for freedom from state repression and thereby ennoble it, make it modern and "enlightened," and encourage its growth. Letting Christianity run its course should lead to its eventual fall from its tendency toward decadence and corruption and its vulnerability to a science-driven decrease in "gaps" for God to fill. Then it would be replaced by atheism as is happening in Europe. Or, it will morph into evangelical science and reason denialism and somehow be usurped by conservative politicians as we have seen happen in the US, for now but hopefully not forever. Enlightenment science, reason, and humanitarianism may be slow to spread and take root but they are proving to be highly potent in the long term. Let's hope the long term is long enough.


HOW AMERICA FAILED

This interview, especially the book How America Failed it focuses on, presents a serious challenge to freethinking humanism as received from the Enlightenment. Science, reason, and humanitarianism may, repeat may, be succeeding globally in the long term but they are clearly failing in the US. What, if anything, can be done when the best ideas and methods Western civilization has produced for governance and social life are willingly and knowingly rejected by the majority in the most powerful, wealthiest, and most highly "educated" country in history? I tend to agree with the book's author, Morris Berman. Nothing. We're screwed. The blind thundering herd of selfish greedy individuals is taking us all over the cliff and into the abyss. Not so, you say?  Please explain.


October 27, 2014

Evil – A Supernatural Force Or Just A Label For The Very Bad Things We Think And Do?


“The Truth About Evil” by John Gray, The Guardian, October 21, 2014

Above is a link to an article on evil, that is, a force, idea, or action of highest compassionless cruelty. I find little to quibble with in Gray's notion that evil is part of the full range of potential human behavior - we've proven it over the millennia. His rebuke of some who paint as evil those who do not conform to Western liberal notions of the inevitability of Enlightened progress toward more widespread democracy, equality, and justice, also seems well founded. There is potential for evil thoughts and behavior in all of us. But there is insufficient reason or evidence to conclude that evil is an independent supernatural force or that as such it can “inhabit” a person or group.  Without human thought or action evil disappears along with all our other labelled categories for reality and human experience.

October 4, 2014

A Rite Of Passage And School Of Life For Adulthood – On Their Reinvention And Reestablishment

Photo by Amy Grubb, The Guardian

by Luke Cunard
The Guardian, October 3, 2014

The above-linked article about a young Englishwoman marrying herself grabbed my attention in an unusual way.  The subject of the article, Grace Gelder, regards the novel notion of self-marrying, which she undertook in March 2014, as a pact with herself.  That is, a promise to herself to strengthen her commitment to personal self-awareness and development, including improving her relations with others, then "somehow enacting that in how you live your life from that day on."

Such a crucial rite of passage for acknowledging personal growth and strengthening social well-being, though universal in ancient and likely prehistoric societies, is now not only sorely and almost totally lacking in the secular West, it is also gradually being given up elsewhere in the world. The current high level of personal discontent and social un- or dis-ease, in the West and increasingly elsewhere, warrant the reinvention and reintroduction of such a rite.

Such a renewed rite of passage with its attendant ceremonies and rituals would need to be voluntary.  How else could it be palatable to and binding upon the modern, Enlightened individual?  Successfully completing the rite would be contingent upon the initiand having undergone self- or institutional-instruction in such subjects as critical thinking and applied personal and moral philosophy, especially that found in Stoicism and Epicureanism.  It would also entail at least a minimal exposure to a significant portion of the world's other moral philosophies, including the moral teachings of the world’s religions. A tall order, you say?  Yes, but something this good could not and should not come easy.  Some would fail, others would succeed partially, and still others would succeed fully.  Still, this would be a great improvement over the current lack of such a rite and its attendant personal and societal discontent palpable in the ever-growing secular population of the world.

A public ceremony would give the rite social affirmation and validation. During this ceremony vows would be made based on a credo of humane personal virtues and moral principles the initiand would choose, write down, and commit to, and thereby be something to return to for guidance throughout his/her life.

September 10, 2014

Baseline Melancholia - Don't Worry Or Be Happy, Be Content


UPDATE - More and more on happiness....

In Praise of Melancholy and How It Enriches Our Capacity for Creativity by Maria Popova, November 28, 2014

Happiness Expert Paul Dolan: What Makes Me Happy by Paul Dolan, November 22, 2014

Take the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire by Argyle, Hills, and Wright, November 3, 2014

From Ptolemy to George Eliot to William Blake, A Private History of Everyday Happiness by Maria Popova, October 20, 2012

An Equation That Predicts Happiness by Cari Romm, The Atlantic, August 6, 2014

Against Happiness: Why We Need a Philosophy of Failure by Andy Martin, Prospect, August 1, 2014

How to be Happy:  A Guide Through Ancient Philosophy

What Happiness Conceals by John Quiggin, Aeon, March 27, 2014

The Meanings of Life - Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning, by Roy F. Baumeister, Aeon, September 16, 2013

Learned Optimism: Martin Seligman on Happiness, Depression, and the Meaningful Life by Maria Papova, BrainPickings, June 28, 2012

The Neuroscience of Happiness by Lucy McKeon, January 28, 2012


ORIGINAL POST:


by
Yuval Noah Harari
The Guardian, September 5, 2014

I shouldn't be so cynical when it comes to essays about happiness, but I always am. Harari's essay, though, is a good one.

I tend to think less about my happiness and more of my qualia (inner, personal states) such as freedom from pain or fear, or the level of my general wellness. Pain, fear, and well being apply to the in-the-present condition of all sentient animal life forms. Happiness as humans define it seems to ask for too much. I can reasonably conclude that a chimp or goose, for example, is experiencing pain, fear, or well being based on its behavior. However, only humans, using language, tell each other or write, in excruciating detail, about their inner states. That is, to what degree they are experiencing or not experiencing pain, fear, and well being in terms of their happiness.

September 5, 2014

Epistemic Roundabout I


COSMOLOGY

"The Mathematical World" by James Franklin, April 7, 2014


I've read this essay once. My thinking the first time through kept me going to my effort some time back to understand the concept of time in a universe where humans did not exist -http://jameselassiter.blogspot.com/2011/05/time-does-not-objectively-exist.html?m=1 

On that occasion I felt somewhat comfortable that time is indeed an artifact with no objective existence prior to its invention by humans.

But the present essay has me fairly well convinced that mathematics, at least the natural shapes and processes it accurately accounts for, exists independent of humans inventing it. As I read with that notion under tow, I began to think that perhaps time might also exist independent of humans "discovering" it. The intervals between cosmic and quantum events are real. Call them time if we must.

I can ease my dilemma if I couch these notions in an explanation/understanding that acknowledges that both exist - objective mathematics and time on the one hand AND the artifactual constructs we create and use to think about and discuss them on the other. This seems to square with modern science - the objective existence of preexisting regularities (predictabilities) in the universe AND the formulation of laws, equations, and descriptions that represent and explain those conditions.

Then again, without our "mathematics" and "time" the universe would only be matter of various types, combinations, and shapes, in motion. Certain outcomes of this motion would repeat themselves (events we would describe as being in conformity with natural laws) and other motion outcomes would be novel or emergent. Period.

Let me read it once again....


EARTH

"Our Lonely Home in Nature" by Alan Lightman, May 2, 2014


"Nature can survive far more than what we can do to it and is totally oblivious to whether homo sapiens lives or dies in the next hundred years. Our concern should be about protecting ourselves — because we have only ourselves to protect us."

Really?! Lightman does place human empowerment a far second from the power of nature. The problem with his conclusion is his, I think, unfounded assumption that nature can withstand whatever humans do.

July 9, 2014

Anti-Intellectualism In American Life - Excerpts And A Comment


The further I read in this great, Pulitzer Prize winning book the more amazed am I that the principles of the Enlightenment – the improvement of society through reason; the challenging of ideas grounded in tradition and faith; and the advancement of knowledge through skepticism, scientific method, and intellectual interchange - have not by now been completely rooted out and discarded by mainstream America and the politicians that prey upon, serve, and ultimately rule them. [Perhaps this is in fact the real American story, that Enlightenment principles remain in place at all.]

Maybe we are experiencing the last chapter in the current conservative, Christian, Republican effort at such an eradication and societal takeover.  For the holders of this vision seem to be ever-more numerous, determined, and entrenched in power. If they ultimately succeed, and current events in the US continue to strengthen my belief that they might, a new and much more brutal Dark Age will soon and surely follow.

June 8, 2014

Suffering And Injustice - Whose Awe, Truth, And Hope Will Prevail?



I am not angry at God and certainly do not fancy myself being him, as some I’m sure accuse me. In fact, I would never want to be God and have and use his imputed power and knowledge. Not even for a moment in which I might rid the world of, say, human suffering and injustice. The responsibility for such an act aside, removing suffering and injustice and all that causes, attends, and follows from them would be an unprecedented intervention in the unpredictability of the Cosmos. 

Eliminating any of the unpredictability of the Cosmos would forestall the possibility of certain serendipitous events taking place in the future. A look at the list of past serendipitous events and conditions that contributed to the origins of the Earth and life upon it, including our own, though a rare but not necessarily extraordinary occurrence in the vastness of the Cosmos, should make one, especially a God-for-the-moment human, hesitate to make any wholesale changes in how it all works. A cosmic intervention would also require certain violations of the predictable laws of the Universe that we are aware of - gravity, for example - and a number of others we so far have not discovered but would be briefly known to me, the God of the Moment, The Great Intervener. My mere tinkering, which is what it would be for such an omniscient and omnipotent one as me, would redefine every thing and every process, everywhere, forever.

May 19, 2014

Reason And Compassion - Hallmarks Of Human Nature



This new journal premiered in March 2014.  It describes its aims and purpose as follows:

Science, Religion, and Culture is an open access interdisciplinary journal focused on bringing together research and theoretical analysis from the physical, biological, and social sciences with ideas from philosophy, theology, and religious studies. It aims at exploring the unique relationship between science, religion, and culture, and it welcomes submissions from all perspectives and religious traditions—including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, secularism, humanism, and naturalism. Given that science and religion are two great manifestations of human culture, special focus is given to the various ways modern science—including the disciplines of physics, cosmology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, sociology, and anthropology—support, oppose, inform, or are informed by religious, theological, and cultural perspectives. Additional focus is given to perspectives on science, religion, and culture from different geographical regions, cultures, religions, and historical epochs.

The articles in the first issue include:

Victor Stenger

Massimo Pigliucci

Robert E. Pollack

John Shook

Timothy Helton

The journal’s appearance prompted an online discussion between me and some of my local fellow freethinker friends (secular, freethinking, humanist, atheist/agnostics).  With reference to the first two articles by Victor Stenger and Massimo Pigliucci, one friend said that s/he had a low tolerance for faith-based ideas such as those of the Abrahamic religions and therefore sided with Stenger.  His/her implied assertion was that these religions, and other faith-based belief systems, have not made the world a better place.  Since it is impossible, his/her argument went, to know what the world would have become without the influences of religions, the assertion that the world is a better because of them is a non sequitur.  The following is my response, which I have expanded a bit since the discussion: