bradbradallen

Christian Objectivist

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Michael, you have essentially answered, in your first paragraph, the question you posed in your second paragraph. Yes, religion does attempt to offer people answers to the questions we all necessarily ask: "Can we understand the world we live in?"-- "How do we achieve knowledge?-- "What is the good for man?"-- "How shall we treat other men?" -- "Is there a purpose to our lives?"

Barbara,

My problem goes even deeper. Everybody I know of asks at one time or another, "Why do I have to die?"

Rand's answer to this is not really an answer. At least I do not recall reading anything from her that sounds like one. If I had to sum up her answer in two words, it would have to be, "Just because."

Why do we have to die? Just because.

The afterlife in every religion I have examined is fantasy and speculation, but religions do try to address this question in some manner. I wish Rand has said something like "I don't know" for that particular question instead of insinuating that "the given" or "axiomatic concept" is all you need to think about to address it. The problem is that the question does not go away. "End in himself" as the description of man works really well for identifying the uniqueness of each individual and structuring moral-political principles, but it does not address the metaphysical question of why an "end in himself" must end someday.

A raw fact is a raw fact and we have to accept it as fact. I admit that on a theoretical level. But as one "end in himself" to another, I find the fact of my own approaching demise unacceptable. I think most people do, too.

When people seek the meaning of something, I understand that they are trying to find out where that something fits in with a bigger scheme of things. So when they ask, "What is the meaning of life?", they are really asking "Where does my life fit in as an essential part of the universe?" And even more important, "Where does my upcoming death fit in as an essential part of the universe?"

Religions give answers. Not good ones, but answers nonetheless. "End in himself" sounds like a sidestep. "I don't know" is the best answer on a metaphysical level I have encountered and it is the one I use today.

This goes further, too. One real trap with "end in himself" thinking within a universe context is that on a bad day a person can come to the conclusion that the universe is one thing and he is another thing totally outside it—that his life really does not fit into the big scheme of things. It is an accident or a random event. This is so because the universe goes on and he does not. He is like a fly at a picnic, so to speak, waiting to be swatted as a minor irritation and duly forgotten.

(Thank goodness I don't have many bad days! :) )

However, predominantly the answers religion gives have not been helpful. Religions have taught us that supernatural entities exist and have power over us that we cannot understand or deal with, and that our reason must bend its knees to faith. Most religions have taught us self-sacrifice; they have taught us that our lives are chained by Original Sin; they have taught us that we must, on pain of eternal hell-fire, sacrifice ourselvles to others; they have taught us that sex is evil, and that money is the root of all evil.

A lot of this can be said of philosophies of reason (however flawed). Communism comes to mind. On the other end, religion brings peace and comfort to people, especially when they get worn out by life and scared. So I see good and bad in it.

Religions are contradictory by nature. Every one I have examined is. But I believe if we make a broad statement like "predominantly," we have to be careful. The Christianity of our Founding Fathers was nothing like the Christianity of Jim Jones. The Catholicism of John Kennedy was nothing like the Catholicism of Mother Teresa. And on and on and on.

One thing that bothers me with religions (and philosophies for that matter) is the call to form tribes. More wars have been fought using religion as an excuse than for any other reason. Philosophy is a strong contender, though.

However, people still cling to religion because philosophy has not done much better. Not in the sense of providing a comprehensive and intelligible view of man and his world that could substitute for religion.

Do you think this is the main reason? I don't.

But even if it is, doesn't this indicate that there are some fundamental things people need and seek that philosophy addresses poorly and religion does a much better job with?

What causes a modern-day rocket scientist to accept that there were talking snakes at the birth of mankind's history? Or that an omnipotent God was not present when the snake spoke? Surely philosophy does a better job than religion of explaining that talking snakes don't exist and that omnipotence means everywhere all the time. If this were one person or another, I would agree that the person was crazy. But this kind of thinking holds true for vast numbers of extremely intelligent and productive people.

What are they seeking?

This, I propose, is not fully answered in Objectivism.

I believe that the reason so many people, discovering Rand, have without great difficulty been able to drop whatever religious views they held, is precisely because she provides answers to these fundamental questions. That is not to say that she necessarily always was correct, but that she offers a view of the world, of man, of his relationship to other men, of the good, of the possibilities that life offers us, that is both comprehensive and intelligible.

I agree with this up to a point. This is certainly how it operated with me in the beginning.

But as life unfolded, I started coming up against an uncomfortable fact. When I encountered people who read Rand, I noticed that some of the "got her" in the manner I did, but most people didn't. This was frustrating because it was so clear to me. And the more I tried to explain, the more the words got in the way.

In my mind, I started going through the entire litany of reasons to blame them for wanting to continue with their religion after having read Rand (evasion, evil, brainwashed, lack of understanding, and so on), but those kinds of reasons never rang true for the majority of people I met.

Then it got really uncomfortable when I started suspecting "For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, none is possible."

But it is possible. I know it is. I just don't know what it is.

I do believe that Rand got really close, but she did not hit the center.

One of the principle themes that ran through everyone I ever met who read Rand and did not give up religion is that Objectivism did not satisfy something fundamental to their lives that they were seeking. Religion may not have satisfied it entirely, either, but it did a lot better job for them.

I am not bashing Objectivism. I am trying to understand something I have observed for years. What Objectivism gets right, it gets really right in a manner you don't get at other schools of thought. But I keep bumping up against the scope thing and now this growing awareness of an omission. I believe other people sense this, too, which is one of the reasons they can't replace their talking snakes with what they read in Objectivism.

All great insights start with good questions. I know I am asking good questions.

Michael

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My problem goes even deeper. Everybody I know of asks at one time or another, "Why do I have to die?"

The answer is simple. We wouldn't exist as we are if we would not die, as dying is an essential element of evolution, otherwise we'd still be some primordal goo. You cannot have life without death. Now we may not like that notion and that's of course the reason that all kinds of fairy tales have been invented, but nature doesn't give one damn about what we like.

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Dragonfly,

Do you mean to say that our ability to like or dislike is not part of nature?

Michael

It is part of our internal nature. The part of nature external to us does not care what we like or dislike.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Do you mean to say that our ability to like or dislike is not part of nature?

Of course it is part of nature, as are hallucinations and delusions. But that doesn't mean that these are reliable guides for understanding nature.

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Dragonfly,

So, if I understand you, you would base your ethics on evolution and not your individual life, thus avoid overvaluing hallucinations and delusions?

:)

btw - This change of topic is a neat way to avoid discussing why people have been religious throughout mankind's history.

Maybe it is because, in your view, all people fundamentally prefer hallucinations and delusions to life?

:)

Michael

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xray:

Were you a nag during your marriage?

Adam

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xray:

Were you a nag during your marriage?

Adam

Getting personal won't lead you anywhere here in the discussion, Selene.

But for the sake of clarity, what do you mean by "were"?

Edited by Xray

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Dragonfly,

Actually, joking aside, there is something in your answer that we have to die for the good of evolution. It is in alignment with my observation:

When people seek the meaning of something, I understand that they are trying to find out where that something fits in with a bigger scheme of things. So when they ask, "What is the meaning of life?", they are really asking "Where does my life fit in as an essential part of the universe?" And even more important, "Where does my upcoming death fit in as an essential part of the universe?"

Religions give answers. Not good ones, but answers nonetheless.

Knowing that I have to die for the development of future people does not really satisfy me on an intellectual level, just like "God's pleasure" does not satisfy me on that level. (I won't even talk about the emotional level.)

Now it may comfort you to know that the bigger picture of evolution is where your temporary life fits and evolution is what gives your life meaning, but let's take this one step further.

What is the meaning of evolution?

Where does evolution fit in the universe?

Is your individual life fitting into something bigger, but something without meaning?

Michael

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xray:

Were you a nag during your marriage?

Adam

Getting personal won't lead you anywhere here in the discussion, Selene.

But for the sake of clarity, what do you mean by "were"?

My error, I apologize for my tenses.

I thought you work on the presumption that you can stick your psychological nose into other marriages, I thought you would not get defensive at all.

Let's make it are you a nag in your marriage?

Adam

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So, if I understand you, you would base your ethics on evolution and not your individual life, thus avoid overvaluing hallucinations and delusions?

My ethics is based on my ideas of how a society should be in which I'd like to live. No doubt these are for a large part grounded in my early education and for some part probably inborn (and therefore based on evolution). I don't pretend that they are scientific or objective, but neither is anyone else's ethics.

btw - This change of topic is a neat way to avoid discussing why people have been religious throughout mankind's history.

Maybe it is because, in your view, all people fundamentally prefer hallucinations and delusions to life?

Certainly not all people, but a large part definitely does, in view of the great success of religion through the ages. In the past many of them might be excused as they really didn't know better, they were indoctrinated by that meme from early childhood and didn't have the knowledge to dispel that meme later in life. But today that excuse is no longer valid.

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Dragonfly,

The following question may seem like joking but it is not.

If I understand you, you essentially believe that human beings are born flawed, with a version of original sin built in that makes them vulnerable to memes and so forth, and only by repenting (throwing off memes or whatever by conscious effort) will they be saved from invalidity and a totally screwed-up or mediocre life.

Is that correct?

Michael

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Michael,

You bring up some interesting points. I just finished watching Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life - a recent documentary about her. She says some interesting things about death.

First, she quoted a philosopher she had read in her teens, stating "When I die, the world ends." She goes on to explain that she won't be around when she dies, and from her perspective it is the world ending and not her (which she can't observe directly). I liked this view a lot.

She also says that if she believed in afterlife and that she would be united with Frank, she would commit suicide right away to be with him. It was very touching.

I think though that what you believe Objectivism should assert, that "we simply don't know," is the right answer. We don't know, we want to know, and there are only so many ways of trying to know. One way to propose an answer is to do so through the study of science, but this is quite fatalistic. When we die, we just vanish because our consciousness is the product of material that will decompose. But if consciousness is limited to physical matter and physical laws, then consciousness itself would be deterministic... so this is not a satisfactory answer. Another way to propose an answer is just to imagine something consciously and cognitively. Still another way is to emotionally believe in some imaginitive teaching. Finally, there are deeper perceptions related to what we can call mysticism and spirituality. These phenomenal perceptions seem to arise relatively independent of volitional imagination and social learning, and they seem to trigger a deep ease inside our being because they are experienced as arising with consistency to the experience of all reality (i.e. they are intuitively believable given our ability to observe the world).

Christopher

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Knowing that I have to die for the development of future people does not really satisfy me on an intellectual level, just like "God's pleasure" does not satisfy me on that level. (I won't even talk about the emotional level.)

You're ascribing a meaning to evolution, the idea that it does have some purpose. It doesn't, it just happens, like gravity happens.

What is the meaning of evolution?

As I said, it has no meaning, it just happens. Just as the solar system has no meaning, it's just there.

Where does evolution fit in the universe?

We only know that it fits on earth. It seems likely that it will also happen elsewhere in the universe, due to its general character, but we don't know exactly what the boundary conditions are.

Is your individual life fitting into something bigger, but something without meaning?

I don't get the meaning of this question... The only meaning my individual life has, is the meaning I assign to it myself, looking for an "outside", "higher" meaning is futile.

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xray:

Were you a nag during your marriage?

Adam

Getting personal won't lead you anywhere here in the discussion, Selene.

But for the sake of clarity, what do you mean by "were"?

My error, I apologize for my tenses.

I thought you work on the presumption that you can stick your psychological nose into other marriages, I thought you would not get defensive at all.

Let's make it are you a nag in your marriage?

Adam

Are you trying to create some sideshow, Selene? :) Edited by Xray

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Dragonfly,

You are essentially on the same page as Rand ("just because").

In your first comment, you were a little off as to my meaning. I was not ascribing a meaning to evolution. I claim that "the meaning of something" is usually understood as being where it fits within a larger structure. When people ask, "What is the meaning of this?", they usually want to know where it fits in (including within causal structures, but not always).

Evolution is a larger structure than an individual life.

Thus when you said that the answer was easy about why we have to die, that it was to serve evolution, I understood this to mean you being satisfied with understanding death (including your own death) because you found a larger structure that explains and uses it.

Continuing...

I later made the comment (through a question) that this is the same cognitive structure as saying God created everything. I.e., if God created everything, who created God?

In the example under discussion, if death of individual life has meaning because it serves evolution, what does evolution serve?

All this does is remove the question one level. If that satisfies you, fine. It doesn't satisfy me.

Michael

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xray:

Were you a nag during your marriage?

Adam

Getting personal won't lead you anywhere here in the discussion, Selene.

But for the sake of clarity, what do you mean by "were"?

My error, I apologize for my tenses.

I thought you work on the presumption that you can stick your psychological nose into other marriages, I thought you would not get defensive at all.

Let's make it are you a nag in your marriage?

Adam

Are you trying to create some sideshow, Selene? :)

You seem to have bought a ticket from the Barker outside.

Here is a softball for you to hit. Are you here to see the "geek"?

By the way, if any of you folks get to see Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power, it is a chilling walk into the psychology of "the pitchman" and "the psychiatrist" and the bowels of insanity.

Adam

Edited by Selene

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Questions like "Why does 'matter' exist at all? "Why is there anything at all, and not nothing?" (as Schelling asked); "What is the sense of all this? Is there a "deeper sense" in existence?" all go to a residual of the concept, objective value.

The question, why, presupposes purpose. In Christianity, it's "divine purpose." This sets the premise of "God created." This implies that "all" was created. When applied, this poses the question, who or what created "God". The question is infinite regression with no answer.

Edited by Xray

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Dragonfly,

You are essentially on the same page as Rand ("just because").

In your first comment, you were a little off as to my meaning. I was not ascribing a meaning to evolution. I claim that "the meaning of something" is usually understood as being where it fits within a larger structure. When people ask, "What is the meaning of this?", they usually want to know where it fits in (including within causal structures, but not always).

Evolution is a larger structure than an individual life.

Thus when you said that the answer was easy about why we have to die, that it was to serve evolution, I understood this to mean you being satisfied with understanding death (including your own death) because you found a larger structure that explains and uses it.

Continuing...

I later made the comment (through a question) that this is the same cognitive structure as saying God created everything. I.e., if God created everything, who created God?

In the example under discussion, if death of individual life has meaning because it serves evolution, what does evolution serve?

All this does is remove the question one level. If that satisfies you, fine. It doesn't satisfy me.

Michael

I think you are a religious person, Michael, which is why the answer does not satisfy you.

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Questions like "Why does 'matter' exist at all? "Why is there anything at all, and not nothing?" (as Schelling asked); "What is the sense of all this? Is there a "deeper sense" in existence?" all go to a residual of the concept, objective value.

The question, why, presupposes purpose. In Christianity, it's "divine purpose." This sets the premise of "God created." This implies that "all" was created. When applied, this poses the question, who or what created "God". The question is infinite regression with no answer.

Reality is circular. Infinite regression is a fallacy. Something has always existed and something will always exist. Why? Because nothing cannot exist. There is no nothing anywhere; there never was and never will be. That is also why reality--something exists--is infinite. Only our observations are finite and those are epistemological, not metaphysical.

--Brant

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Questions like "Why does 'matter' exist at all? "Why is there anything at all, and not nothing?" (as Schelling asked); "What is the sense of all this? Is there a "deeper sense" in existence?" all go to a residual of the concept, objective value.

The question, why, presupposes purpose. In Christianity, it's "divine purpose." This sets the premise of "God created." This implies that "all" was created. When applied, this poses the question, who or what created "God". The question is infinite regression with no answer.

Reality is circular. Infinite regression is a fallacy. Something has always existed and something will always exist. Why? Because nothing cannot exist. There is no nothing anywhere; there never was and never will be. That is also why reality--something exists--is infinite. Only our observations are finite and those are epistemological, not metaphysical.

--Brant

Yep pretty much. Also, we "time bind" our knowledge with oral traditions and "books/language" in a survivable form.

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If I understand you, you essentially believe that human beings are born flawed, with a version of original sin built in that makes them vulnerable to memes and so forth, and only by repenting (throwing off memes or whatever by conscious effort) will they be saved from invalidity and a totally screwed-up or mediocre life.

"Vulnerable to memes" is a misleading term, we are receptive to memes and no doubt that will have survival value as it is part of our genetic make-up. It enables us to accumulate more knowledge than we could get on our own. But a trait that is useful in general, can under certain circumstances become less useful or even harmful. Another example is our tendency to discover patterns in complex data, which is essential for gaining knowledge about the world around us. But sometimes that trait misfires and we "see" a certain pattern that has no real meaning, which can lead to superstitious behavior and to seeing Jesus in a tortilla, the devil in a smoke cloud or a face on Mars. There is nothing wrong in discarding memes when we know that they are not valid or no longer acceptable. For thousands of years the notion of slavery, implying that some people have less rights than others, was a succesful meme and was generally accepted. That we no longer think so is an aspect of the growing up of our species, and I see no reason to ridicule that by referring to original sin and repenting. The same is true for religious beliefs, they may once have had their use in the past, but now we should know better.

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In your first comment, you were a little off as to my meaning. I was not ascribing a meaning to evolution. I claim that "the meaning of something" is usually understood as being where it fits within a larger structure. When people ask, "What is the meaning of this?", they usually want to know where it fits in (including within causal structures, but not always).

I think this use of the term 'meaning' is misleading, if people ask "what is the meaning of life", that question has for me always the connotation of looking for some kind of purpose. I'd prefer the more neutral term 'explanation". In science the explanation of some specific phenomenon is a description of that phenomenon in terms of a theory with general laws that we have discovered. But the buck doesn't stop there: the next question is how this theory and these laws can in their turn be 'explained' in terms of a more general, more encompassing theory. Take for example electric and magnetic phenomena. In the 18th and 19th century scientists like Volta, Ørsted, Ampère, Ohm, Faraday and others began to study in earnest these phenomena, discovering general laws. These achievements were crowned by Maxwell in his famous laws that explained the complete theory of classical electromagnetism and predicted the existence of radio waves travelling with the speed of light. The theory and with it the explanation seemed complete. But with the advent of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics new horizons were opened. It appeared that the classical electromagnetic forces could be explained as the exchange of virtual photons between charged elementary particles. Now we're looking (so far with very little success) for a theory that encompasses general relativity and quantum mechanics, to explain those theories. Where does this chain of theories end? One can think of a theory of everything, from which all the other theories can be derived. It would be nice if such a theory could also explain why the constants of nature do have the values they have. But it's also speculated that these values are accidental, that they will be different in different universes (multiverse models) or even that they also follow an evolutionary process. These ideas are of course highly speculative, and we are confronted with the problem that they are extremely difficult if not totally impossible to verify. Our efforts to increase our knowledge will be increasingly be hindered by the phenomenon of diminishing returns. We will never be able to understand it all, why is there anything at all? I think that question cannot be answered, we have to accept that as a hard fact.

I later made the comment (through a question) that this is the same cognitive structure as saying God created everything. I.e., if God created everything, who created God?

In the example under discussion, if death of individual life has meaning because it serves evolution, what does evolution serve?

Here again I find your terminology misleading. "Serving" sounds to me like fulfilling some purpose. Death of the individual is just implicit in evolution. Evolution doesn't serve anything. It can be explained by the character of the laws of physics and chemistry, especially by the very particular and unique properties of the carbon atom.

All this does is remove the question one level. If that satisfies you, fine. It doesn't satisfy me.

It satisfies me as the answer to a specific question at that level. I'm certainly curious about physical, chemical, biological and astronomical questions, but while I'm a reductionist, I'm not a greedy reductionist. While the mating behavior of Bufo bufo is ultimately reducible to the behavior of quarks and leptons, it is only understandable to us in terms of its own, biological, level, even if some physics and chemistry are necessarily involved. To each domain its own.

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I think you are a religious person, Michael, which is why the answer does not satisfy you.

Xray,

You think wrong.

Unless "religious" is highly qualified as something like "concerned with the nature of consciousness and existence."

Michael

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